Seattle Sounders FC, historically known for making key midseason signings, went in the other direction this summer, not adding a single player as the MLS Secondary Transfer Window closed on Aug. 4.

Garth Lagerwey, the club’s general manager and president of soccer, shed light on that approach as Seattle looks to build upon a historic Concacaf Champions League title in May. They’re also pursuing a 14th-straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth, qualifying every year since joining the league in 2009 and chasing a spot in the Nov. 5 final.

The simple version: there wasn’t much wiggle room budget-wise, they believe in their young players progressing and they didn’t want to mortgage long-term success for a potential short-term boost.

“We probably chased as many or more deals than we have in any other summer window, but we did so with really limited resources,” Lagerwey explained. “And I think realistically to upgrade our team, given the quality in the group and given the quality of the young players, it would have cost, based on our market research, about $750,000.

“Again, if you talk about adding that to next year, you're going to have to lose a player permanently if you do that. So we just said, 'Hey, we believe in the group. We won the title in May. This group deserves a chance to repeat in November.'

“That's the decision we made and ultimately I totally understand if the fans are frustrated or we're second-guessed. That comes with the territory. Just tried to give you guys the big picture as to what our thought process was in that regard.”

Positions of need

Lagerwey said Seattle explored adding a defensive midfielder, with homegrown standout Obed Vargas still sidelined with a back injury and Joao Paulo suffering a season-ending ACL tear in the Sounders’ victorious CCL Final second-leg match against Liga MX’s Pumas UNAM. Lately, they’ve slotted Cristian Roldan deeper alongside Albert Rusnak, leading to right winger discussions near the transfer deadline too.

Describing the broader transfer window as a delicate Jenga puzzle amid contracts, bonuses and the salary cap – especially with nearly the whole roster signed for 2023 – Seattle stayed pat.

“Even if we signed a replacement, we couldn’t take a long contract because JP’s coming back,” Lagerwey outlined, “and as I said, we have our team, we believe in [how] that group was the best team on the continent three months ago and we have really good young players in that defensive midfielder spot as well.

“So you could only take a loan for a short term if you want to take a look there and likewise say, 'Alright, we'll sign a right winger.' But Cristian Roldan’s your starter there.

“It was the most tricky window I think we’ve ever had in terms of trying to thread a needle and I think ultimately it was a little frustrating from a front-office perspective. It wasn’t surprisingly frustrating, but what we were doing was very difficult and there weren’t a lot of ways to succeed.”

Seattle can still add a domestic or international player through the Roster Freeze Date on Sept. 2, but they must be out of contract (join on a free). Lagerwey said someone from Tacoma Defiance, their first-place MLS NEXT Pro side, is among the options.

Getting someone who’s ready to step into head coach Brian Schmetzer’s starting XI would prove more difficult, though.

“We could have gone out, we could have spent a million bucks, we could have brought in a starting-level player – but at the cost of our team,” Lagerwey said. “That's the decision that ultimately we stuck with. But there are definitely moments of temptation there where you're like, ‘The shiny thing is right in front of you. I just need to go pick that up.’ Ultimately we stayed disciplined and time will tell if that's the right decision or not.”

Suarez rumors

Lagerwey also addressed rumors from earlier this summer, where the club was linked with signing Uruguay star Luis Suarez after the 35-year-old departed LaLiga’s Atletico Madrid.

The World Cup-bound striker signed with boyhood club Nacional in his native Uruguay, yet there were exploratory talks with the Sounders. They never quite reached a concrete level, and speculation was perhaps enhanced by club captain Nicolas Lodeiro’s close relationship with Suarez.

“With Luis, it never progressed to the point where I actually spoke to Luis,” Lagerwey said, then referencing the league’s blockbuster summer move for an ex-Real Madrid star on a Targeted Allocation Money deal. “In that sense, I wouldn't say that we were ever holding our breath and, again, it was one where I think the easy comparison is the [Gareth] Bale signing. Well if LAFC gets Gareth Bale can Seattle get Suarez? But LAFC still paid Bale a million and a half, I think.

“I went through it – you could have spent that, but you would have done so at the long-term cost of the group. So we just weren't in a position to be able to offer that kind of thing. I would have been pretty surprised if he would have accepted what we offered.”

Audi MLS Cup Playoffs outlook

It leaves Seattle doubling down on a squad that earlier this spring became MLS’s first-ever modern-day CCL champion – and whose core reached MLS Cup 2020 and Leagues Cup 2021 finals as the global market’s been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, the eighth-place Sounders are one point out of the playoff race with 10 matches remaining and have a game in hand on three clubs above them (FC Dallas, Nashville SC, Portland Timbers). Lagerwey’s not panicked, instead preaching confidence around the club’s stretch run.

Seattle made four of five MLS Cups from 2016-20, winning in 2016 and 2019 over Toronto FC on both occasions. And a FIFA Club World Cup trip is also on the horizon, with Lagerwey working under the assumption it’ll be held in February until details are confirmed.

“Winning the Champions League was an awesome accomplishment, historic, but that didn't change our goal,” Lagerwey said. “Our goal coming into the season was certainly to try and win that, but to win MLS Cup.

“I've talked about it, in some ways, if you can get everybody healthy again, it's easier to repeat if you think of a Champions League to an MLS Cup because it's six months apart, as opposed to MLS Cup to MLS Cup. In 2019 we win, in 2020 we get back, we lose the final. That's a 12-month stretch there where you have different contracts, different guys coming and going.

“In theory, this is the same group and it's only four, five months later. So our belief is we're going to take a shot at this thing and we're going to contend for MLS Cup.”