On Wednesday afternoon, General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey and Head Coach Brian Schmetzer addressed the media at an end-of-season press conference at Starfire Sports.
Asked to reflect on 2019, Schmetzer provided a summary of his outlook on the MLS Cup championship season.
“Well, it ended on a high, started on a high, and then there were a lot of bumps in between,” he quipped.
Reflecting back even further on his time as Head Coach, Schmetzer cited the 2017 season as a valuable lesson for his development as a coach, molding his outlook for next year.
“I felt we started 2017 a little bit complacent,” said Schmetzer. “I don’t want that to happen again. Next year I want all of the departments, our selves included, to drive the level of the organization a little higher. That’s important.”
Earlier in the day, the club announced its roster decisions ahead of the 2020 campaign. In addition to the 14 players who were already under contract for the upcoming season, the Sounders exercised options on Handwalla Bwana, Jordy Delem, Gustav Svensson and Justin Dhillon.
Svensson, in particular, was a welcome inclusion on the list, as the Swedish No. 6 has established himself as one of the league’s preeminent defensive midfielders since joining Seattle in 2017.
“Gustav was a key contributor for us down the stretch,” said Lagerwey. “We thought he was immense for us in the playoffs.
Lagerway made clear that, while the club did decline options on six other players, it does not mean that their tenure with the Sounders is over, as the club can still negotiate new contracts to bring them back.
“For a bunch of these guys, without going into individuals because all of these situations are a little different, there’s a couple of those guys that we’re looking to [have] come back,” said Lagerwey. “When we decline an option, all we’re saying is we’re not willing to pay this price that’s on paper, but there might be a mutually agreeable price and would welcome you back.”
In addition to defending their MLS Cup title and vying for the Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup, the club will be competing in the 2020 Concacaf Champions League. No MLS club has ever won the regional tournament, making it an ambitious target for a club coming off a championship campaign.
Wary of the CCL cautionary tales of Toronto FC in 2018 and Sporting Kansas City in 2019, Lagerwey cited the plethora of talented young players on the roster as an effective means of fighting for trophies on four fronts. More specifically, he noted that players like Delem and Bwana, as well as talented youngsters Danny Leyva and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, will get opportunities to further their development at the First Team level.
“We’ve said it already publicly, we’re going to try and win Champions League,” said Lagerwey. “We’re going to need more contributions, likely from younger players, if we’re going to navigate an MLS season while we’re taking that on.”
Less than two weeks after the Sounders lifted MLS Cup in front of a sold-out crowd at CenturyLink Field, the technical staff is hard at work to make sure that 2020 continues the club’s tradition of excellence.