Nelson Valdez Sigining 150807

It took a minute for prized forward Nelson Valdez to truly understand what Garth Lagerwey was saying. And it had nothing to do with the language barrier.


Lagerwey, Sounders FC’s General Manager & President of Soccer, was involved in advanced discussions with Valdez over a possible move to Seattle, and in doing so the topic of fan support surfaced. The Paraguayan had been playing in front of bulging crowds for the better part of a decade in Germany, Spain, Russia, the UAE and Greece. The longest he’d spent at any one club were the five years he’d been at Werder Bremen in northern Germany.


Werder Bremen’s average attendance over a season is 29th in all of Europe among clubs that average at least 25,000 fans. That average? Just north of 40,000 per game. Almost the same exact average attendance Sounders FC pulls to CenturyLink Field every gameday.


As Lagerwey relayed this, a mask of incredulity stretched across Valdez’s face.


“You’re telling me you draw as well as the Bundesliga?” Valdez asked.


Precisely.


Securing Valdez this week was a welcome end to a move that was several years in the making. Sounders FC first tried to pry him from Russian club Rubin Kazan in 2012, but the timing didn’t work. Valdez moved to Valencia on loan instead before he was sold to Al Jazira in the UAE, where he spent a season. Much like the Andreas Ivanschitz move the club announced just a week earlier, Valdez was a slow burn until he was released on a free transfer by Eintracht Frankfurt after the 2015 season finished.


Valdez’s time at Rubin Kazan overlapped with that of Obafemi Martins in 2011, and Martins spoke highly of his former teammate as Sounders FC was vetting him. In fact, one of the first things Valdez did when he initially met the team in the locker room after landing in Seattle was embrace Martins and give him a loving pat on the head. For Valdez, it was a natural end to a saga that brought him to play in the U.S. for the first time.

Enchanting draw of Seattle proves irresistible for fired up Valdez -

“It’s a very interesting league. It’s a very competitive league,” Valdez said through a translator. “There are many players coming over to this league. I have been trying to come to this league for over two years now, even from Valencia. It didn’t happen, but now I’m very happy to be here with my family.”


The Valdez signing is the third in a series of summer signings intent on bolstering the team’s ranks ahead of the final push toward the playoffs. All three - Valdez, Ivanschitz and Erik Friberg - were lured from Europe to help stoke the action going forward. Sounders FC is still searching for a rhythm as its key pieces return to the fold in time for the final months of the regular season, and all three fill a need. For Valdez in particular, that could take a few different tracks.


READ | Fast Facts: Seattle goes full Nelson

Since Valdez’s contract at Eintracht Frankfurt ran its course, Valdez last featured in the Copa America in Chile. Paraguay were the surprise of the tournament, escaping a group with Argentina and beating Brazil in penalties to  reach the semifinals and then the third place game, where they fell to Peru. In the Argentina group match, which finished in a scintillating 2-2 draw, Valdez scored a rasping long-range blast to pull the game within 2-1 in the second half.


In that game, and throughout a Copa America in which he played every game, Valdez was arrayed on the right flank in a three-forward setup. After Valdez’s second practice, Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of implementing the same thing once his new forward gets up to speed.


“It’s an option,” Schmid said. “There’s a lot of different options. But we also have five games in 14 days after this game against LA when we go into the next series of games. So there’s probably a little bit of rotation in there. After we get through with that rotation we’ll figure out what’s the best way to get as many of the talented players on the field at the same time.”


Valdez took up Seattle’s final Designated Player spot, which enabled the club to buy down part of Osvaldo Alonso’s salary budget charge with a new mechanism called Targeted Allocation Money. It was used for the first time by the LA Galaxy, Sounders FC’s opponent this weekend, when they signed Giovani Dos Santos and paid down Omar Gonzalez’s contract to fit him under the league’s capped rule structure. It was only even introduced as an option a few weeks ago.


All in a day’s work for Lagerwey, Chris Henderson and the team’s front office, which worked tireless hours to fit this deal into a workable arrangement under new rule’s auspices.


“All we did by adding the TAM is update the DP rule,” Lagerwey said. “The DP rule had been around since [David] Beckham came in in 2007. It had a $500,000 threshold. All we did was push that up to $1 million, and we have this new class of players that are kind of in the middle that we call TAM players. Ozzie’s existing contract fit right into that category, which gave us the opportunity then to call him TAM and call Nelson a DP, and that means we get to add a good player.”


As for Valdez, Schmid mentioned he’s probably still about a week away from featuring in a game, but one way or another he’ll get on the field this month. For a club looking for an attacking spark to relight the fuse, Valdez is one heck of a welcome sight.


“I feel really good,” Valdez said. “All the players have been very welcoming. There’s a lot of Latin players, and they have been very good with me. But also the other players have been very warm, so I’m just waiting now for what I can give back to the team.”

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