MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Three big questions following Seattle Sounders FC's 2022 season


As the 2022 MLS season draws to a close, clubs trickle over the line of being mathematically eliminated from the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Though games remain, focus shifts to the offseason and what's next.

Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club (Seattle Sounders version). Read that, too.

He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.

The big picture

It really is the most MLS thing ever for the team that finally won Concacaf Champions League to not make the playoffs in the same year, right? Particularly one that was a beacon of consistency, having literally never missed the playoffs during their first 13 years in MLS, right?

This league is absolute chaos.

The Seattle Sounders won CCL at the beginning of May and then expected to start climbing the Western Conference table. We all expected it to happen. It took some time. There were a couple of false starts. Then time ran out – it never did happen – and the Sounders never quite put their domestic season back on track.

The Audi MLS Cup Playoffs won’t feature the Sounders for the first time since 2008, before they joined the league.

Was it worth it?

Let’s just start with the obvious: This season didn’t have to be binary. It didn’t have to be “CCL or MLS” and not both.

So maybe it’s a false premise. In the same way the Sounders should (and will) get endless credit for being the first MLS team to win CCL, they aren’t exempt from criticism for missing the playoffs.

That being said: Yes, it was worth it. The Sounders made history in 2022 by becoming kings of Concacaf, booking a FIFA Club World Cup spot as well. Their run to the final, and absolutely through Liga MX’s Pumas UNAM over two legs, is forever etched in folklore now.

They were truly the best team in the region. They played wonderful soccer. The fans came through with a record-setting atmosphere. It was a party.

It was a choice, too, to focus on the CCL run and to figure out the rest later. Albert Rusnak was signed in free agency, rather than going in a different direction, with the CCL run in mind. Seattle were public in their desire to achieve continental glory.

Pushing for CCL comes with costs at the beginning of the MLS season. They’re not necessarily dire, but even treble-winning 2017 Toronto FC missed the playoffs in 2018 as they made a run to the CCL final.

Joao Paulo got hurt in the CCL final, suffering an ACL tear. The Sounders never quite recovered. Raul Ruidiaz was limited for much of the season. Cristian Roldan got hurt down the stretch. Yeimar Gomez Andrade and Xavier Arreaga, their preferred center backs, will end around 25 league starts apiece this season.

I bet Seattle would make the same choice again, even with the knowledge that their 13-year playoff streak would come to an end.

Garth Lagerwey will be back… right?

A uniqueness in MLS and across American sports, the Seattle Sounders Alliance Members (season ticket members, suite holders, seat partners) get to vote on their opinion of the general manager. They’re the only professional sports team in North America with this practice. The voting closed on September 28 and the results will be announced in November.

Lagerwey is regarded as one of the very best GMs in MLS history. He helped build Real Salt Lake’s period of success from 2007-14, where they won MLS Cup and made it to another final as well as a CCL final. Then, in 2015, he joined the Sounders, who’ve won two MLS Cups, been to another two finals and won CCL.

It’s the second time Lagerwey is subject to this vote. Last time, he passed with an 87% vote of confidence in 2018. There would need to be a 67% vote of no confidence for Lagerwey to not be retained.

While it’s unlikely that would happen, it’s at least on the table. And with his contract status up in the air, smart people in the industry theorized that perhaps another big-spending, ambitious MLS club could make a run at him. There’s been little more than just that – theorizing – so don’t get too wrapped in it.

However distant the possibility of Lagerwey leaving could be, it would be one of the biggest acquisitions for a rival MLS club to accomplish if it happens.

What flexibility will Seattle have in roster building?

All three DP spots are filled, with Nicolas Lodeiro under contract through 2023, Ruidiaz through 2024 and Rusnak through a 2024 team option. All are senior players over the max budget charge, so the Sounders can use only one U22 Initiative slot, which they’ve already done with Leo Chu.

So, no DP spots and no U22 Initiative slots are available. They squeezed everything they could to bring back Alex Roldan last year under the budget and Lagerwey spoke publicly after the trade of Brad Smith (to D.C. United) about how the club needed to use all of that allocation money generated to manage current contracts.

Obed Vargas playing a key role before his injury helped, as did fellow homegrowns Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva down the stretch. Getting good minutes from Jackson Ragen, a player on the supplemental roster, is big for cap gymnastics.

I didn’t really answer the question, though. It seems that their flexibility for significant change is limited if the group mostly returns.

We’ll see what the front office can come up with, though. Teams have looked capped out before and have maneuvered or moved things around to find some more room. But I’d anticipate a low-key winter, barring big surprises.

Depth chart as of Oct. 3
SEA depth chart - Bogert year-end

A couple more thoughts:

  • Usually with teams so defined like this, the main questions can be more specific. But the Sounders had a wild year, so it was a lot of macro stuff.
  • Will Nouhou, should Cameroon name him to their final squad, make a move to Europe after the World Cup?
  • Will Rusnak stay as a No. 8 when everyone’s healthy or shift back to attacking midfield like he was for five years with RSL?
  • Do they have enough fullback depth?
  • Can Chu play a more regular role in 2023?
  • Lodeiro will be 34 shortly after the start of next season. Ruidiaz is 32 and, in April, Stefan Frei turns 37.