TUKWILA, Wash. — Barely two months after celebrating their second MLS Cup title, the Seattle Sounders opened training camp Tuesday in a winter snowstorm.
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The thin layer of snow on the practice field was hardly the biggest obstacle facing Seattle after a challenging offseason. Players have departed and the team has struggled to finalize new signings – not to mention league-wide uncertainty regarding negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.
All told, it’s been a quiet break for a team trying to build on last year’s title run.
“That offseason after you win is always the roughest offseason because everyone gets recruited, right?” general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “Understandably and correctly, everyone’s like, `Oh, you have a really good team, we want your players. And so players get other opportunities. So we have to always work through that. And if you combine that with not having a CBA, that’s been really tough.”
The Sounders will return the core of a roster that led Seattle to its second league championship, but Lagerwey would like to make supplemental additions, especially entering a season where depth will be tested due to the number of competitions Seattle faces. Along with the MLS season, the Sounders will also be in the CONCACAF Champions League, U.S. Open Cup and the Campeones Cup against the champion of LigaMX.
Making those additions would be easier for Lagerwey and coach Brian Schmetzer if Seattle knew the structure of the CBA. Right now, it’s all a guessing game.
“They’ll tell us when they tell us, and when they tell us, then we’ll jump in and do everything we can,” Lagerwey said. “In the meantime, you wind up as a GM doing more work because you have to have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C, and you might not be able to execute any of them.”
The uncertainty of the CBA has a major trickle-down for Seattle, especially in its more glaring area of need along its defense. The Sounders started camp with just one center back in Xavier Arreaga and in need of a left defender. Roman Torres signed with Inter Miami in the offseason, and both Kim Kee-hee and Brad Smith – key contributors to Seattle’s defense – are unlikely to return, Lagerwey said.
Midfielder Victor Rodriguez, who scored the key second goal in the final victory over Toronto, is also not returning to Seattle.
For now, a thin roster is fine. But Seattle begins its busy season on Feb. 20 when it starts play in the Champions League. The Sounders open the MLS season on March 1 hosting Chicago.
“It’s challenging to open training camp without perhaps a full roster,” Schmetzer said. “I can’t hide from that fact. But that’s part of life.”