Questions about the Sounders’ youth and defender Brad Smith’s departure kick off our first soccer mailbag. Send me yours via email or Twitter and I might include it next go-round.
A: Exact numbers for the deal haven’t been disclosed, but the most important piece is an automatic buy option wasn’t included in AFC Bournemouth’s loan to Cardiff City FC. At the conclusion of Championship play — that’s the second-tier to the English Premier League — Smith is a free agent. Although, he could agree to terms if Bournemouth wanted its original $3 million loan from Liverpool FC extended to keep Smith.
While the Sounders would love to have Smith back, entering a bidding contest at the time the loan to Cardiff City was announced in late January didn’t make sense for them. The Sounders have Nouhou and Joevin Jones to rotate at left back. And when the MLS secondary window opens in July — when the Sounders’ roster will be depleted because of expected international call-ups — Smith would ideally be free to sign outright.
The catch will be price. Smith, who hails from Australia, has bumped up his stock since helping the Sounders win MLS Cup in November. Seattle used Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) from the league to pay his approximate $500,000 loan salary last season. Bournemouth paid the other half of Smith’s $1.1 million value as a defender.
The Sounders already have the new collective bargaining agreement’s limit of three Designated Players and likely wouldn’t pay seven figures for a defender anyway. In my conversations with Smith, he and his family loved their time with the Sounders organization. But would he take a significant pay cut to play in MLS again? If money is a driving factor, that’s in Europe not the U.S.
Cardiff City inched up to 10th in the table since Smith’s arrival, but he’s yet to make his debut with the Welsh club. Bluebirds coach Neil Harris told reporters, “there’s been a spring in the step in the group over the past couple of weeks.”
The club needs to finish at least sixth in the standings in order to qualify for a playoff, where the winner earns a spot in the Premier League. The Championship season ends in May.
A: Whew! Lots of good questions, but I’ll sprinkle the answers out over a few mailbags because I haven’t had time to take everyone’s measurements.
So, for midfielder Handwalla Bwana, yes, I think this is a make-or-break season for him. And I’d expect him to make it.
Bwana, a Ballard High alum from Kenya, played well in the closed-door scrimmage against Sacramento Republic FC last week and is one of four Homegrown players the Sounders took to Mexico City for the final portion of preseason training camp this week.
The 2020 schedule opens with a two-legged series against CD Olimpia in the CONCACAF Champions League on Feb. 20 (Honduras) and Feb. 27 (CenturyLink Field). Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said he’s treating the team as one unit, so Bwana is presumably jockeying for minutes with the other midfielders in Nico Lodeiro, Joao Paulo, Gustav Svensson, Cristian Roldan, Jordy Delem, Harry Shipp and Danny Leyva.
Bwana’s development needs to edge Leyva and should match Delem and Shipp this season. Those veterans could start elsewhere and are gems for the Sounders as backups. Mixed the right way, there isn’t a drop-off if you have either Delem or Shipp plugged into the first-choice lineup. Bwana should be of that caliber.
With an extended schedule, there will be plenty of opportunities for Bwana to produce with all of the talent he possesses. Otherwise, the Sounders should move on in order to take that next step as a true threat in CONCACAF play.
A: I can only go by stats because I wasn’t on the beat in 2015 and … goodness. I was today years old when I understood the magnitude of Cristian Roldan’s breakout season in 2016. He became a full-time starter, scored four goals and logged 2,632 minutes.
There are some nuances in there that played a role in Roldan’s impact, including a position change and being 5 years older than Leyva is now. It would be incredible for Leyva’s performance at 16 years old to demand first-choice minutes this season. But he is capable of starting and was, in my opinion, robbed of his first MLS goal last season.
Leyva is under the tutelage of Roldan, and you forget Leyva is young when watching him train. But knocking Lodeiro, Joao Paulo, Svensson or Delem out of the center/defensive midfield position to be a consistent starter like Roldan was in his second season? I doubt it. Leyva doubling all of his statistics from 2019 — 413 minutes, four starts — and continuing the longer-term trajectory to being a Sounders star is more likely.