The Sounders announced a big signing Friday, finalizing a deal to bring Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo to Seattle as the third designated player on the roster.
Joao Paulo, 28, has spent the past decade as a professional player in Brazil with stops in the country’s top Serie A league. Joao Paulo played the past three seasons with Botafogo, where he made 36 league appearances and scored three goals in 2019.
“Joao is a tactically excellent player who solves problems on the pitch, while his passing and set-piece service will help us be even more goal dangerous,” said Chris Henderson, Sounders sporting director and vice president of soccer, in a news release. “I had the opportunity to meet Joao in Brazil and witness firsthand his professionalism and character, which fit exactly what we stand for in Seattle. On top of that, he’s a former captain who brings experience and leadership to our squad.”
Details of Joao Paulo’s contract were not disclosed. According to the Brazilian publication “Lance!”, Joao Paulo is signed through 2021 and will earn $1.25 million per season. The outlet also states Joao Paulo requested the transfer because he wants to return to North America, where he once lived, but doesn’t specify where.
Joao Paulo arrived in Seattle this week and is expected to participate in training with the Sounders on Saturday at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. However, the Sounders said the bilingual athlete is awaiting his P-1 Visa and International Transfer Certificate.
“The coaching staff is always pleased to welcome talented players to our roster,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said in the news release. “With Joao we are adding a versatile veteran with a track record of winning.”
Garth Lagerwey, Sounders general manager and president of soccer, previously stated his caution in making a splashy offseason signing was due to MLS and the Players Association not ratifying a new collective-bargaining agreement, which makes the 2020 salary cap unknown.
The current contract between the league and its players was extended a week on Thursday after being due to expire Jan. 31.
“We do not want to be in a position where we have to offload some of the guys that helped us win an MLS Cup or MLS Cups,” Lagerwey said earlier this month in response to the lack of player acquisitions despite obvious roster needs. “So we are going to be conservative until that agreement is reached.”
But the Sounders hedged any possible salary-cap issues with winger Victor Rodriguez and defender Kim Kee-hee not returning for the 2020 season. The club also paid down the contract for Ecuadorian defender Xavier Arreaga with Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) from the league to avoid any possible budget snags once the cap is known.
Rodriguez, who was named MVP in helping Seattle win the MLS Cup in November, told the Sounders after the match he wanted to return to his native Spain to play closer to his family. He earned $1.1 million in Seattle last season, according to the MLS Players Association.
Rodriguez signed with Elche CF, a club he last played for in 2015, and the deal was announced Thursday.
Negotiations with Kim and the Sounders have stalled because of pay. The South Korean, originally signed in 2018, earned approximately $772,000 last season, according to MLSPA. He has yet to sign with another club.
Joao Paulo doesn’t solve the Sounders holes along the back line. He does provide versatility in defending with his skill at holding the ball. The first-choice quality player could be paired with veteran Gustav Svensson in the back or be moved up.
The Brazilian joins Nico Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz as Seattle’s designated players and also occupies an international spot. Under the current CBA, teams are allowed three DPs and eight international players.
“(Joao Paulo is a) talented and versatile player that brings a lot of experience to our club,” Lagerwey said in a news release. “His signing adds a strong piece to an already talented roster, and we’re excited about the way our team is taking shape as the season approaches.”
The Sounders continue training in Tukwila on Saturday and throughout next week, departing for Mexico City on Thursday. The club begins 2020 play with a two-legged matchup against CD Olimpia on Feb. 20 and 27 in the CONCACAF Champions League. The club’s MLS slate begins March 1 against the Chicago Fire FC at CenturyLink Field.
Lagerwey formally announced the departure of midfielder Emanuel Cecchini on Friday. Originally acquired via loan, Cecchini has been subsequently loaned by the Sounders to Argentine club Union de Sante Fe through December 2020 and is already training with his new team.
The 23-year-old Argentine was paid approximately $789,000 by the Sounders last season, according to MLSPA. Cecchini appeared in four games with one start, totaling 155 minutes and two shots on goal.