The pandemic is still altering how the Sounders FC does business. The latest example is the club’s signings at the close of MLS’s secondary transfer window.
None of the scouting staff has seen their top catch play live within the past year. Seattle is one of the league’s innovators in blending analytics with game footage and personal interviews to unearth talent. The computed output was signing attacker Leo Chu, the club announced Thursday.
The 21-year-old from Brazilian side Gremio signed a four-year contract with an additional club option. Leo Chu will occupy an international roster position and a U-22 initiative slot. He is being formally added to Seattle’s roster pending receipt of his International Transfer Certificate and P-1 Visa, according to the Sounders.
“It was different,” said Garth Lagerwey, the club’s general manager and president of soccer. “Like COVID has affected everything, you have to adjust. You have to look at it a different way.
“This is a bright, up-and-coming young player. He’s had a little bit of a rough patch (but) we thought he was of value, and we’ll get him in here and see if that was correct or not. For somebody who doesn’t speak English and hasn’t traveled extensively outside of Brazil, there’s going to be some adjustment. He’s going to be joining the team midseason. But there’s a ton of potential if we’re willing to be patient.”
The Sounders paid a transfer fee of $2.5 million to Gremio, and the Brazilian side retains 20% of Leo Chu’s rights for any future financial transactions. The U22 Initiative stipulates Leo Chu will make a maximum $612,500 but only $200,000 counts against Seattle’s salary cap.
Leo Chu was enthusiastic about the signing via social media posts. He’s from the same region of Brazil as designated player Joao Paulo and called the midfielder before signing. The pair don’t know each other but Joao Paulo’s first professional club — Internacional — is an archrival of Gremio. The latter winning the Campeonato Gaucho championship this season.
“Happy and motivated by this new challenge,” Leo Chu posted via Twitter.
Lagerwey doesn’t know whether Leo Chu is fully vaccinated but said the club will encourage him to do so as the Sounders are 100 percent vaccinated and adhering to multiple COVID-related protocols. Brazil recently eased restrictions as deaths are at a low since the pandemic hit in 2020.
The Sounders also signed veteran Nicolas Benezet from the Colorado Rapids in exchange for $50,000 in general allocation money (GAM) as the league’s summer window came to a close. As part of the agreement, Colorado can acquire an additional $50,000 in GAM should certain conditions be met, according to a club news release.
The Frenchman’s contract is guaranteed through the 2021 season, with a club option for 2022. Colorado is retaining a portion of his salary budget charge, and he will occupy an international roster position.
Benezet, 30, has appeared in 31 matches in three MLS seasons since leaving France in 2019. He’s tallied two goals, one during Toronto FC’s 2019 postseason run, and four assists. The latter all with the Rapids during regular-season play.
At the Sounders’ lowest point of player availability in mid-July, Lagerwey said in multiple interviews that the biggest summer signings could be the return of key injured players.
Wednesday’s draw against FC Dallas at Lumen Field had that feel. Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who sprained his knee in a May match and suffered complications from a blood clot afterward, was part of the keeper’s union during pregame warm-ups. And midfielder Nico Lodeiro substituted into the match in the 87th minute.
Lodeiro, a designated player, previously played 24 minutes as a sub in May. He entered the season injured and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in May.
Wednesday’s three minutes plus stoppage time didn’t show enough to truly evaluate Lodeiro, but the significance wasn’t lost on the 31,628 in attendance, many giving the Uruguayan a standing ovation. Cristian Roldan, who was the main player wearing the captain’s armband in Lodeiro’s absence (midfielder Joao Paulo has also filled in), immediately tossed the band to Lodeiro as he ran into position to defend a play.
“I know he probably didn’t want it,” Roldan said and replay video showed a slight confusion from Lodeiro as he caught the band. “That’s just Nico. But it’s custom to give the armband (back). He brings leadership to the team, so I’m happy to see him back.”
Defender Nouhou (adductor) and forward Jordan Morris (ACL) are the only remaining players who could possibly return this season. Defender Jordy Delem is out for the year with a torn ACL.
Nouhou’s injury has been confounding because, according to Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, a variety of treatments haven’t worked. The Cameroonian had such an impressive start to the 2021 season at left center back that he was voted into his first MLS All-Star game.
While the pool of available Sounders players is getting deeper and the younger talent is exceeding expectations, it’s doubtful the returns and new acquisitions will be able to contribute much during one of the most competitive stretches of the Sounders’ schedule.
Seattle (9-3-6) hosts Liga MX powerhouse Tigres UANL in the quarterfinal round of the Leagues Cup on Tuesday at Lumen Field. The Sounders then have a three-match, seven-day road trip beginning Aug. 15 with a Cascadia derby at the Portland Timbers’ Providence Park. The other two matches are at FC Dallas (Aug. 18) and a MLS Cup rematch Aug. 21 at the Columbus Crew’s new stadium.
Five players — Raul Ruidiaz, Joao Paulo, Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Cristian and his brother Alex Roldan — are expected to participate in the MLS All-Star game Aug. 25. The stretch ends with a derby doubleheader against Portland at Lumen Field on Aug. 29. OL Reign will host the Portland Thorns FC in the undercard at the facility.