SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders are just a few days away from opening training camp for the 2020 season, and for general manager Garth Lagerwey, there are still a lot of questions to answer.
For the Sounders, it’s a shorter offseason than usual with their 2019 MLS Cup victory qualifying them for Concacaf Champions League, which they’ll kick off against Honduran side CD Olimpia on Feb. 20.
In a conventional offseason, Lagerwey likely would have made at least a couple signings by now to plug the holes left by departures from last season’s MLS Cup-winning side — of which there are a few. Instead, winter has been largely quiet, something Lagerwey attributes to uncertainty around negotiations surrounding a new collective bargaining agreement. The current one expires at the end of the month.
"The most important thing for us is to not jeopardize any of the good players we have," Lagerwey told reporters in a conference call following Thursday's opening rounds of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. "We have a very good foundation and we do not want to be in a position where we have to offload some of the guys that helped us win an MLS Cup or MLS Cups. So, we are going to be conservative until that agreement is reached.
Lagerwey added that the Sounders are still in talks with a handful of players, some of whom were on the team last year and others that are transfer targets.
While MLS Cup MVP midfielder Victor Rodriguez still needs to be replaced after departing back to his native Spain, Lagerwey said that he sees shoring up the defense as the biggest current roster need. Xavier Arreaga is currently the only central defender signed to the first team, with Roman Torres departing for expansion side Inter Miami CF and Kim Kee-hee’s future with the club still uncertain as the South Korean international weighs his options.
“As of today, I believe we’ve lost three of our four starters of our MLS Cup defense,” Lagerwey said. “So, that is an area we are looking to strengthen. We’re certainly looking to improve all over our team, but that is the area [of need] right now.”
The conservative approach shouldn’t necessarily surprise anyone who has followed Lagerwey’s Seattle tenure. He's famously measured when it comes to roster building, and rarely makes splashy moves until the summer transfer window, when he’s secured Designated Player signings like Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz. With CCL just around the corner though, the clock is ticking for Seattle to fill out the roster before the marathon begins.
The Sounders start training camp at Starfire Sports Complex on Tuesday.
“We play Feb. 20 so that’s what we’re looking at,” Lagerwey said. “We obviously want to get guys in sooner rather than later to make sure the team has a good level of preparation. Fortunately for us we’ve had some success recently and we feel like we have a pretty good core of a team.”