Seattle Sounders General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey and Head Coach Brian Schmetzer addressed the media on Wednesday for the final time in 2020.
The Sounders finished their campaign with a 3-0 loss to Columbus Crew SC in MLS Cup, their fourth appearance in the title match in the last five years. Below is a recap of all the talking points you need to know.
One of the biggest takeaways was that Lagerwey confirmed an initial MLSSoccer.com report that captain Nicolás Lodeiro re-signed an extension to stay with the club through the end of the 2023 season. Lodeiro was entering the final year of his contract in 2021 and will now remain on the books as a Designated Player for the next three seasons.
“He is the cornerstone of our franchise,” Lagerwey said of Lodeiro. “He is the best player on our team. He has been the best player on our team. He’s arguably already the best Sounder ever.”
Added Schmetzer: “I am certainly very, very happy that Nico has decided to end his best playing years here with our club. That is something the team is going to build on next season.”
JOÃO PAULO IN TALKS TO RETURN
The Sounders signed midfielder João Paulo on a season-long loan from Brazilian club Botafogo prior to the 2020 season. Lagerwey said he is working on finalizing a move that would keep João Paulo in Seattle.
“Our intention is to try and bring JP back,” Lagerwey said. “I believe that he wants to come back. Those discussions are ongoing. It involves Botafogo in Brazil, so it’s not as straightforward as simply we and JP agreeing, but I think he had a very good first year.”
João Paulo started 17 of 19 matches for the Sounders this season, scoring twice and adding five assists. His presence unlocked Lodeiro in attacking midfield en route to helping Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Raúl Ruidíaz earn MLS Best XI honors.
“In my experience, when the player wants to stay and the team wants to get it done, I’m at least cautiously optimistic that we’ll get a positive outcome there at the end,” Lagerwey said.
SCHMETZER’S CONTRACT TALKS ONGOING
Schmetzer, who took over for Sigi Schmid in summer 2016 as interim manager before getting the job full time later that year, is out of contract at the end of the month. However, Schmetzer and Lagerwey are in discussions to try and get a deal done before the new year.
“I’ve always said I hope to be back,” said Schmetzer. “We don’t have a deal yet, but I know Garth and my representatives have been talking about it, so I’m hopeful that we can get something done. It’s something that both sides are willing to try and make a push to get it done. It’s getting a little late in the year, but I think everybody has the same goals in mind to try and push it over the finish line.”
Said Lagerwey: “Brian and I are aligned. We want to bring Brian and the staff back, we’ve said that for months. I spoke to Brian’s representative multiple times yesterday and certainly in the run up to the playoffs as well. We’re working on it. Hopefully we’ll get there.”
JORDAN MORRIS’ FUTURE IN SEATTLE
A Homegrown Player from Mercer Island, Wash., Morris just finished his fifth professional season in Major League Soccer. He is signed to a long-term contract, but the possibility of playing overseas surfaced during the postseason.
“I definitely have goals and aspirations, and if the right European team or situation came, it would definitely be something that I would have to take a close look at,” Morris said.
Lagerwey addressed Morris’ future on Wednesday.
“We’re just pretty open and transparent and said, ‘Jordan, what do you want to do?’” said Lagerwey. “We want happy players and players who are ambitious and fulfilled. All that said, Jordan is a unique asset to our club. His value to us in our community because of how good a person he is and how active he is, is special and probably not replicable.
“We will certainly support him in whatever he wants to do, whatever direction he wants to take.”
ENDURING THE CHALLENGES OF 2020
“For us, it almost felt like three different seasons,” said Schmetzer, referring to the Concacaf Champions League and the start of the MLS season, the MLS is Back tournament and the resumption of play culminating in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. “I have to put a special shoutout to [Director of Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer] Chris Cornish and all of our team and medical staff for doing a fantastic job of keeping us all safe in a pandemic. And the entire organization for doing a great job in being one of the leaders in MLS as far as goals, attitudes and success and keeping our bar very high.”
Lagerwey echoed Schmetzer’s sentiments, while also addressing another COVID-19 issue for the Sounders’ internationals.
“Our track record at the end of the year was very good, or certainly better than most in terms of keeping our athletes healthy,” Lagerwey said. “One of the things that was underreported during the season but was very disruptive were the international transfer windows. You have a player like Gustav Svensson, who was gone in September and had to quarantine, gone in October and had to quarantine, gone in November and had to quarantine. And Raúl and [Xavier] Arreaga. That was very disruptive to have those guys come back at different times down the stretch. It upset some of the squad rotation in the run into the playoffs and led to a lower performance level in the playoffs.”
Homegrown midfielder Shandon Hopeau battles LAFC at the MLS is Back tournament in July
OFFSEASON PRIORITIES AND TARGETS
The Sounders hit the salary cap wall at the end of this season as they’ve reached the mature part of their cycle. The front office knew that was coming and partially contributed to the reasons behind declining the option on Joevin Jones, as well as letting the contracts expire for Kelvin Leerdam and Gustav Svensson.
The salary cap is also flat, which means that the club has less money to spend than it did before. There will be a smaller number of experienced players on the roster next year compared to this past year.
“By no means is this a rebuild,” said Lagerwey. “Can [our prospects] make meaningful contributions now? Instead of going out and signing an experience pro from Europe or South America, you are getting increased contributions from those kids as part of the solution. That helps us through this patch where we have a ton of money tied up in fewer and fewer players as a result of unmitigated success where, correctly, those good players have performed well and they’ve hit bonuses and they’ve been paid more money in accordance with their performance.
“The pool of resources is close to nonexistent,” he continued. “We had to cut to a level to get back to even. We have a little bit of room. I don’t want to act like there’s nothing we can do, but there is no plan right now to have an impact addition in the January window from outside the league.”