Transfer negotiations can be painfully drawn out affairs, with some deals requiring months of meetings, thousands upon thousands of air miles and tense negotiations all for the privilege of acquiring a player who may not even pan out.
Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey said landing the 27-year-old attacker was perhaps the easiest signing he’s made since he joined the club three years ago, with the entire negotiation taking less than 48 hours. Two games into his Seattle career, it’s easy to see why the Sounders were so keen on the Norwegian.
Eikrem, who Seattle signed using Targeted Allocation Money on Jan. 30., has added an extra bit of flair to the Sounders’ attack. He scored a lovely goal after coming on at halftime in their 4-0 CONCACAF Champions League win against Santa Tecla last Thursday, then created several excellent chances and nearly scored twice in another 45-minute appearance off the bench in their 1-0 loss to LAFC Sunday.
The sample size is small, but Eikrem has shown solid technical skill, creativity and vision, helping a Sounders attack currently dealing with injuries to striker Jordan Morris and midfielder Victor Rodriguez. He’ll likely play a significant role when Seattle host Liga MX giants Chivas de Guadalajara in the first leg of their CCL quarterfinal series Wednesday night (10 pm ET; Univision Deportes Network, go90).
“I think Wolff’s off to a great start,” Lagerwey told MLSsoccer.com over the phone Monday. “We’re excited to have him as part of the team.”
Seattle landed Eikrem by focusing on a market most MLS teams didn’t dip into before the league introduced a sizable amount of Targeted Allocation Money: European free agents in their mid-20s.
The Sounders began looking seriously at European players with expiring deals last year, using TAM to sign the 28-year-old Spaniard Rodriguez and Dutch defender Kelvin Leerdam, 27, in the summer. Both helped Seattle to a second straight appearance in the MLS Cup final, with Leerdam emerging as one of the best right backs in the league over the second half of 2017.
Prior to the addition of TAM, guys like Rodriguez, Leerdam or Eikrem wouldn’t have fit in Seattle, who target bigger, multimillion-dollar signings with their Designated Players spots. With the new money, they became available, and the Sounders have pounced.
“The league hadn’t really consistently spent money on mid-20s Europeans, mostly due to financials,” Lagerwey said. “When you looked at the salaries that are being paid, you realized that that these guys are easily within reach of TAM. When we signed Leerdam and Rodriguez, those deals were actually pretty straightforward given that those players were free agents. So, we kind of got the idea that ‘Hey, this is kind of a new marketplace that we haven’t been able to shop in before.’”
This winter, feeling they needed more flexibility in the attack, Seattle went back to their list of European free agents and found Eikrem. He was out of contract with Swedish club Malmo, where he played sparingly in 2017 despite racking up four goals and 15 assists in just 19 league starts in 2016.
He was recommended by a scout the Sounders use in Scandinavia, and Seattle liked his skill, smarts and ability to play in the middle or on either flank of their 4-2-3-1. They felt he’d remain effective if they switched from their usual setup to a 4-4-2 diamond, a look Lagerwey said they’ll use at times this year.
That versatility was a big reason Seattle moved so quickly on Eikrem, who looks like he’ll fit just fine with a potent attack that already includes plenty of flexibility in Rodriguez, Nico Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey.
“The whole thing that we’ve tried to do now with our attacking players now is to get flexible players so we can flip from the 4-2-3-1 into a 4-4-2 diamond,” Lagerwey said. “We believe that Eikrem, Victor and Lodeiro and Dempsey are pretty flexible players that allow us to play in some different ways.”