When Brad Smith finally walked off the pitch he and his Seattle Sounders teammates brought celebrations from the field to the locker room after MLS Cup 2019, it was all but certain to be the last time he'd exit that turf in an official capacity, for a while at least anyway.
Given the financial hurdles in the way of a potential permanent transfer, in that he'd command a non-insignificant transfer fee from Bournemouth, Smith was set to depart the Pacific Northwest when his loan expired at the end of the 2019 season.
He probably wasn't thinking much about the future during those moments. They had just won MLS Cup and euphoria was setting in. It was the first major trophy of Smith's promising senior career, which started with a debut off the bench for English powerhouse Liverpool against Chelsea in 2013.
Nine months later, after a disappointing loan spell with Championship club Cardiff City and his contract with Bournemouth expiring, Smith is back in Seattle on a permanent basis after signing a contract through 2022 with the reigning champions, a place he calls home. It's the first time in years there won't be a cloud of "what's next?" hanging over the Australian international.
For Seattle, it's a major coup to sign a player for free who they rate highly and who already has great chemistry with the squad. Off the field, though, it impacts Seattle's immediate flexibility.
Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey told reporters on a virtual press conference Thursday that Smith will occupy the club's final international roster slot for 2020. They had been looking at a number of options on the international front but Smith made too much sense to pass up. If the club are to make another addition this fall, it'll have to be a domestic player or they'll have to acquire an international slot. They have one senior roster spot available.
"In the pandemic, it’s really, really hard right now," Lagerwey said. "To state the obvious, we can’t go watch players live. And so to get a known commodity I think was particularly fortunate for us."
For reference, the Montreal Impact acquired an international slot through 2021 from D.C. United for $225,000 General Allocation Money in September while the Vancouver Whitecaps sent $165,000 GAM to the Portland Timbers for an international slot in February.
Sounders international slots 2020
|Yeimar Gomez Andrade||Defender|
*Midfielder Emanuel Cecchini would occupy an international slot, but he's on loan at Union de Santa Fe
Seattle are hopeful that one or two of the players currently occupying international slots will earn a green card before the 2021 season, and thus domestic status in the eyes of MLS's roster rules, but the process isn't an easy one to predict in normal times, let alone during a pandemic.
It seems like a lot of their cap is accounted for, too, which isn't hugely surprising given the strength of the squad.
If the contract is backloaded as Sports Radio KJR host Jackson Felts deduces, it'd make sense given the club's official release didn't note that his contract was bought down with allocation money.
Garth also notes that Brad had other offers but Brad wanted to be in Seattle, and passed up on those and was financially flexible to come back to Seattle, because Seattle has spent all their money in 2020. So sounds like a contract that is back loaded to 2021 and 2022.— Jackson Felts ⭐⭐ (@JacksonKJR) September 17, 2020
The league maximum budget charge is $612,500 (meaning if Smith was above that in 2020, they'd need to buy him down with allocation.) In 2019, Smith had a total compensation of $549,092.00, per MLS Players Association, making him one of the top earning left backs in the league.
It gives Seattle a surplus of quality fullbacks, too, a position that is generally thin on many MLS rosters. Nouhou and Joevin Jones are second choice now, though Jones is equally adept as a winger. Either player would likely be regulars for many other MLS sides.
In pure speculation, Smith's acquisition could free flexibility for the front office to make a trade if they found the right offer. Center back has been a question mark for the Sounders this season so perhaps a team with a surplus of center backs could be interested. Matt Doyle theorized that a player like Tim Parker, who has fallen out of favor with the New York Red Bulls, would make sense as a trade target.
From a sporting sense, Smith's arrival is fairly straight-forward.
“It gives us competition in the squad and it gives us optionality,” Lagerwey said. “It makes us better in four or five different ways. It adds an explosive player to our team.”
Smith was head coach Brian Schmetzer's first choice left back during his loan spell, making 25 regular season appearances in 2019 that was only limited to that number by injury. He started all four games in their Cup-winning playoff run, too. The marauding fullback gives Seattle's already whirring attack another dimension with his pace and ability in the final third.
His five primary assists were joint-third most in MLS among defenders in 2019, per Opta. He was fifth in chances created per 90 minutes, sixth in expected assists per 90 and sixth in accurate crosses per 90.
“I feel like I can add what I brought last time and hopefully push for back-to-back MLS Cups," Smith said.
That's why Smith is back in Seattle, to find stability and chase trophies. And that's what it means for the club, another all-out push for hardware.