The Seattle Sounders held their end-of-the-year press conference to put a bow on the 2018 season, and look forward to 2019. It was a fairly casual affair, as Coach Brian Schmetzer, General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey, and Sporting Director Chris Henderson held court for the assembled media.
There were several notable bits of news, highlighted by a lengthy back and forth on the status of Sounders captain Osvaldo Alonso. There was a bit of confusion as to his status, but the team was able to clarify the situation I think. It’s basically as follows:
- Ozzie has accumulated enough years of service and is old enough to qualify for free agency.
- There is a “quirk” of sorts in the collective bargaining agreement (see photo above), which would have allowed the Sounders to essentially preempt Ozzie’s rights to free agency. By offering Ozzie $1 over the 2019 DP threshold ($504k + 5% bump for 2019), they could have held his rights, and drastically cut his salary.
- The clear message from the Sounders (Garth in particular) was that while the Sounders could have done that, they did not believe that was the way to do business. “They [players] fought very hard for this [free agency] and we want to respect that right.” Lagerwey said. “It shouldn’t be something where we monolithically impose ‘this is the number we think and that’s it.'”
- The result of that is that Ozzie is essentially an unrestricted free agent, and is free to explore what his market value is. He may or may not decide to return, but nothing is guaranteed.
- Whether Ozzie comes back and starts (if he comes back) is something that is far from being determined, and would be determined by training and play on the field. “That’s gotta be competition,” Schmetzer said. “He has to earn that.”
Aaron Kovar seems unlikely to return. LAFC had an option to purchase him after the year-long loan this fall, and they declined to do so. The Sounders have not apparently offered him a contract to return. “Aaron is exploring right now what he wants to do with the next phase of his career, and those conversations are ongoing,” Lagerwey said.
While the options have already exercised/declined by the team, it’s seems pretty clear that some players under contract could be moving elsewhere. “Some of those guys will say ‘I want a bigger role, so I’d rather play for a different team'” Lagerwey said. That seems to be a reference to players like Waylon Francis and Roman Torres, who were essentially relegated to second/third string status as the year wore on. “Maybe it didn’t work out completely for Waylon,” Schmetzer said. Schmetzer did have praise for Waylon coming on and working at the end of the year, but based on the comments, he seems a candidate to move on.
As to the “reports” to a change to the MLS schedule, I received a lengthy and polite “no comment” from Garth. “As an attorney speaking to another attorney, it would be irresponsible for me to speculate on a policy that has not been passed or approved,” Lagerwey said. No offense taken. Garth did reveal he does sit on the MLS committee that discusses league changes that could impact competition which was referenced in the story.
On the injury front. Chad Marshall is improving and there don’t appear to be any issues that could prevent his return next year. News that Jordan Morris declared that he was “done” with rehab, caught Schmetzer by surprise, though it appears he will be on track to return next year. “That might be a little bit premature,” Schmetzer said. “He’s had a long year, he saw the success of the team in the second half of the season and we had many conversations where he was itching to play.”
Moving to 2019 preseason, the Sounders will continue their standard practice with two phases: Fitness and games. “One will be more of a conditioning phase, and then certainly a second phase which will include games against MLS competition,” Schmetzer said. “It’s the smaller tweaks of how we train, why we train that way, education meaning we’re going to educate the players what it takes to be an athlete that plays at their highest level.”
So with that, we move into the 2018-2019 offseason proper. Maybe a bit earlier than Sounders fans are used to, but with a bit of a silver lining that the players will get a full offseason of rest, recovery and reflection.