Seattle Sounders land "tremendous player" in Pedro de la Vega

Pedro de la Vega - Seattle Sounders - presentation

RENTON, Wash. – A new era kicked off in earnest Wednesday at Seattle Sounders FC's just-opened training facility, where the club held an introductory press conference unveiling Argentine attacker Pedro de la Vega as their new Young Designated Player signing.

De la Vega arrives after weeks of rumors and speculation linking Seattle to the 22-year-old, previously a highly-touted prospect in Argentina with his boyhood club Lanús. And he's ready to meet the moment.

"I knew the club that I was coming to," de la Vega told reporters through a translator at Sounders FC Center at Longacres. "I know that it's a big club. I know that it is a club with always high expectations and that's always fighting to be in the top places of the league.

"I was always very passionate about coming to MLS. I had a lot of desire to come over here and I'm happy that I have come to a club like this, a club that is always competing for big things in the league they're playing or in any type of competition they are playing. I like the fact that there is also opportunity for me to grow and there's always championships in sight."

How de la Vega fits

Perhaps indicating his expected importance, de la Vega assumes the No. 10. That shirt was previously held by Sounders legend and longtime captain Nicolás Lodeiro, who departed for Orlando City SC in free agency this offseason.

"It's an honor to play with [the No. 10 jersey]," said de la Vega, who's under contract through 2027 with an option for 2028. "More than pressure, it's motivation for me to actually honor that number and use it in a positive way."

In de la Vega, the Sounders hope they've found a centerpiece who can help unlock an offense that never quite reached second gear in 2023. He tallied 17 goals and 14 assists in 127 appearances across all competitions for Lanús, plus featured at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2020 Summer Olympics for Argentina.

The move is about more than increasing firepower, though.

"It's easy to find great players, but that's not what the Sounders holistically stand for," general manager and chief soccer officer Craig Waibel said. "What we stand for is great players who are also great people.

"… And so when I flew down to Buenos Aires and met with Pedro, it was an incredible experience even though neither of us spoke each other's language, how well we connected and just how professional he is and the foresight he had on his future off the field, which added to the process for us."

De la Vega’s abilities as both a facilitator and goal-scorer are traits head coach Brian Schmetzer hopes to integrate as they depart for preseason training camp in Marbella, Spain – continuing the buildup to their Feb. 24 regular-season opener at LAFC (4:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass, FOX).

"He's going to be an attacking player," Schmetzer said. "Where he lines up on the field is TBD. He's going to get playing time, he's a tremendous player. And it's not just the goals he's scored.

"What I liked about him is he fits who we are here: He doesn't quit, works hard, grit, determination, always running, always moving. He's an exciting player. Dribbling at people, defenders, so we'll work him in, we'll find the right spot for him. But he's going to be an exciting player to watch."

Added Waibel: "What I see is the explosiveness and the entertaining value that he's going to add to our team. This is entertainment. We remember that every once in a while. This is about the results and he's a player that's very interested in changing the scoreline. And that's what draws us to him."

Inspired by Messi

De la Vega said another factor that aided his decision-making process was feedback from fellow Argentines who either play in MLS or used to. Step in Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada, as well as retired Portland Timbers legend Diego Valeri.

"He talked really, really good about the city, he talked really, really good about the league," de la Vega said of Valeri, a Lanús legend whose MLS career unfolded at Seattle's biggest rival.

"It was good to have the opportunity to talk to all these Argentine players that are already playing here and get their opinions about the league. It made me feel very much comfortable."

The opportunity to play in the same league as the consensus greatest player of all time, Inter Miami CF superstar and World Cup champion Lionel Messi, was an added benefit.

"The MLS league is a league that has been growing for a long time now," de la Vega said. "So the fact that Messi arrived here is an additional incentive for not just Argentine players but also for any other player, and it's an additional motivation. But the league has been growing for a while now.

"Now, it is going to be fun to play in a league where Messi's playing. I cannot deny that. And I wish and I hope that there will be an opportunity to play against that team."

Sign of growth

While uncertainties can accompany Young DPs, Waibel feels the Sounders' veteran-heavy core leaves de la Vega poised to thrive.

"I think what changes [with a Young DP] is there is the immediate expectation of a player," Waibel said. "So with an older, more veteran player, you're also going to ask for that experience to come through immediately, not only on the field but in the locker room.

"Pedro, being at his age, he may not be ready to lead in the locker room and he may not be able to lead the rest of the group in terms of kind of that captain profile. So I think that's one of the biggest things that changes is your immediate expectations are really focused on performance; the intricacies and what happens outside of that kind of falls to the wayside."

De la Vega, who offers a similar profile to players such as Almada and FC Dallas standout Alan Velasco, is Seattle's first-ever Young DP – affording the club maximum U22 Initiative slots (three) alongside senior DPs Raúl Ruidíaz and Albert Rusnák.

With this type of signing, the upside is palpable.

"I think we're growing with the league," Waibel said. "Evolution is an interesting challenge for everyone. How do you do it? I think one thing in the past is it was easier to attract a 25-year-old to a 30-year-old, who maybe wasn't getting as much playing time or maybe had fallen out favor in their club or maybe was out of contract.

"Now we're attracting different players, as well as in addition [to older signings],” he added. "It's a challenge that you face: Which one do you go after and why? The balance is not always the easiest one to answer, but at the end of the day, bringing in players that complement what you need in that moment is the most important thing, and that's how we selected."