The Seattle Sounders are in offseason mode coming off their MLS Cup defeat to Columbus Crew SC, and as they look ahead to 2021 and the season ahead, the player that has fueled their run of four final appearances in five years is set to stay in Rave Green.
Speaking on a conference call with reporters along with head coach Brian Schmetzer on Wednesday, Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey confirmed that star midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro has signed a contract extension that will keep him with the club through 2023, news that was first reported by MLSsoccer.com's Charles Boehm on Monday. The Sounders later announced the extension in a team release.
Lodeiro has been nothing short of a linchpin for Seattle since arriving from Boca Juniors in 2016, acting as the unquestioned centerpiece for Seattle's attack and providing a uniquely intense work rate on both sides of the ball. The Uruguayan is now aged 31, but is a famously rigorous trainer, with the extension representing a bet on Seattle's part that he'll be able to sustain his elite-level production into his 30s as one of the club's Designated Players.
"Nico's going to be signed through 2023. We had him under contract on his existing deal through 2021, wanted to avoid a situation where we're entering the last year of that contract and were able to get something figured out," Lagerwey explained. "So very excited to have him back, obviously he's been the cornerstone of our franchise since 2016. Everything is built around him. I thought he had another fantastic season and so we are super excited and grateful to have Nico back for three more years.
"I think it's important for us to say that Nico is clearly a DP. We would never talk to him at this stage of his career about being anything other than a DP. Again, he's the cornerstone of our franchise, he's the best player on our team, he has been the best player on our team. I think he's arguably already the best Sounder ever if you look at the team's performance since his signing in 2016: Four finals in five years, two titles. At the very least I'm not aware of anybody who's had a better track record than that."
The contract status of Schmetzer, meanwhile, has yet to be resolved as the coach enters the offseason without a new deal. Both Schmetzer and Lagerwey have been consistent, though, in maintaining that both sides want to come to terms on an arrangement that will keep Schmetzer on the sidelines in Seattle, where he's been the head coach since taking over halfway through the 2016 season.
Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey expressed optimism on Wednesday that a new contract agreement will be reached with head coach Brian Schmetzer (above). | USA Today Sports
"I've always said, I hope to be back," Schmetzer said. "We don't have a deal yet but I know that Garth and my representative have been talking about it. So, I'm hopeful that we can get something done. I think it is something that both sides are willing to try and make a push to get it done. It is 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."
Added Lagerwey: "Brian and I are aligned. We want to bring Brian and his staff back, we've said that for months and I spoke with Brian's representative multiple times yesterday and certainly in the run-up during the playoffs as well. So, we're working on it, hopefully we'll get there."
There are still a few things up in the air for Lagerwey as he solidifies his roster for 2021 in the weeks ahead, namely the status of veteran contributors like Kelvin Leerdam and Gustav Svensson, who are both out of contract. Lagerwey did say he's optimistic that Seattle will bring back on-loan midfielder Joao Paulo, which would require a permanent transfer from his previous club, Brazilian side Botafogo.
Then there's the question of standout Homegrown winger Jordan Morris, who has been the subject of speculation as to whether he'll eventually make a move to Europe for years now. Morris has long said that he's happy playing for his hometown club, but left the door open to a move overseas eventually when he was asked in the playoffs, and he's at the point in his career where it might be a logical time to explore those options.
Lagerwey said he and Schmetzer have talked to Morris about just that, but not to the point where anything has been definitively decided. The general manager said that they'll continue to engage with Morris in discussions regarding what he wants to do,
"We'll work with him on it," Lagerwey said. "Coach and I talked to Jordan, I think it was yesterday or the day before, and just the way we handle this is just I think we're pretty open and transparent. We said, 'Jordan, what do you want to do?' We're happy to work and we want happy players and we want players that are fulfilled and ambitious and all that and all that said, Jordan is a unique asset to our club. His value to us in our community because of what a good person he is and how active he is, is special and probably not replicable. Jordan is probably worth more to us here than a comparable player, if there even is such a thing, the guy finished top five in the MVP voting. He's got a lot of value to us.
"But that said, we will certainly support in whatever he wants to do, whatever direction he wants to take. And as we always have, I mean, this is a kid we've known for a long, long time, before he signed with the Sounders and have a good relationship with him and his family. We'll sit down and talk it through."