TUKWILA, Wash. – The offseason for the Seattle Sounders is quiet no longer.
The defending MLS Cup champions might not be done dealing just yet, with recent reports linking Seattle to Colombian center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade. While general manager Garth Lagerwey stopped short of confirming that move, he said he hopes there will be an announcement on that front early next week.
“[Joao Paulo] is a guy that gives our coaching staff some options in terms of how we play in midfield,” Lagerwey said. “We really are motivated to go for it for [Concacaf] Champions League, we’ve been saying that. So, to have all three [Designated Players] from day one for the season, it’s, I think, a statement of intent on our part that we mean what we say.
As for how he’ll fit within the team, Joao Paulo gives the Sounders a versatile threat that can be deployed across the midfield. While he’ll wear the No. 6 that is typically associated with defensive midfielders, he said he’s comfortable playing as a No. 8 or even further upfield. He’s also known for his lethal free-kick delivery, giving the Sounders another option on set pieces aside from Nicolas Lodeiro.
“We’re really excited to have a player of this caliber,” Lagerwey said. “One of the things that stood out is, I think you guys will all be pretty impressed with Joao Paulo the person, the character he has. He’s been the captain of his team, he’s a leader, and from a personality perspective, he’s a complimentary player.
“These are the defending champs out there. This is not a team that needs to get blown up and remade and needs a new alpha dog. What they need is a guy who’s going to play with Lodeiro and [Raul] Ruidiaz and [Gustav] Svensson and [Cristian] Roldan and [Jordan] Morris and the rest of the gang. And we believe he’s that player.”
Lagerwey previously cited uncertainty regarding the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement as a roadblock for making major signings during the winter transfer window. However, Joao Paulo’s desire to join Seattle encouraged the move from Brazilian side Botafogo, a one-year loan with the option to extend his stay after the 2020 season. That added enough flexibility to offset any apprehension Lagerwey may have felt.
“He wanted to be in Seattle,” Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson said. “He’d seen our team, he wanted to play at our club. There was a lot of similarities to me in Nico Lodeiro’s interest in Seattle and being here. So, that was a huge selling point beyond that he’s a fantastic player that can change games and play multiple positions.”
Henderson said that his sense from scouting in Brazil is that players there have increasingly taken note of the growth of MLS.
“I feel like now MLS is an option for them because of the respect for our league and other Brazilians who have started to come into our league,” Henderson said. “But now I think it’s a real scenario for clubs. November and December are big months for looking for players there, and traditionally those are hard months in Europe and in other leagues that don’t match up with ours to be able to bring in [players]. So, I think there’s going to be opportunities for us.”
Joao Paulo, speaking through a translator, reinforced his eagerness to join Seattle.
“The perception [of MLS] has been changing, not only in Brazil, but worldwide,” the 28-year-old said. “It’s a league that every year is becoming more solid, more competitive and we’ll likely see more foreigners come to play here. In my opinion, the league is already pretty strong.
“In these few days, I’ve already noticed that the perception I had is actually true. I’m prepared to make the most out of it and I’m already feeling well adapted and feeling good with the team."