Seattle Sounders announce initial 2020 roster, still keeping conversation open

Seattle, Washington — Plenty of talented players helped lead the Seattle Sounders to their second MLS title this year. However, not everyone will be back to fight for another championship next year.

The Sounders will return the bulk of their team, but some players are either in limbo or out altogether. In one of the first offseason steps, the Sounders released their first signing and contract option moves. Players that had their options exercised includes Gustav Svensson, the Swedish midfielder, and Jordy Delem, a native of Martinique.

Meanwhile, Handwalla Bwana and Justin Dhillon also had their contracts picked up. Bwana appeared in 15 matches this season, starting six games. He scored once, against Orlando City SC, in a 2-1 victory. Meanwhile, he also provided one assist against Sporting Kansas City in August.

Dhillon joined the Sounders from the Tacoma Defiance, the club’s USL affiliate team. He appeared in five matches this season, starting three contests. Dhillon has yet to register a professional goal or assist, but did compile 264 minutes in competition.

Meanwhile, below are the players who were already under contract.

  • Goalkeepers: Stefan Frei & Trey Muse
  • Defenders: Xavier Arreaga, Joevin Jones, Kelvin Leerdam & Nouhou
  • Midfielders: Handwalla Bwana, Emanuel Cecchini, Jordy Delem, Danny Leyva, Nicolás Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan & Gustav Svensson
  • Forwards: Will Bruin, Justin Dhillon, Jordan Morris, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez & Raúl Ruidíaz

Also, of note, Bryan Meredith had his contract picked up. However, yesterday, Meredith was selected by Inter Miami in the MLS Expansion Draft.

“We’re excited to bring back so many players from our championship squad in an effort to make another run in 2020,” Garth Lagerwey, general manager, said. “Making these decisions at the conclusion of every year is always difficult, but we’re excited about moving forward with the group we have and seeing what we can accomplish next season.”

What happens with Kim, Brad Smith?

Notable names left off the new Sounders roster includes Kim Kee-hee and Brad Smith. The two defenders were first-team starters in 2019. Kim even led the entire roster in appearances in 2019, starting in all 30 matches he appeared in.

Right behind him was Leerdam, showing how important and stout the defense was in 2019. Kim featured at centerback with all sorts of different combinations. He began the season starting alongside Chad Marshall, but injuries forced the veteran to retire. Román Torres took a spot next to him, but then was sidelined with a suspension. Xavier Arreaga, Jonathan Campbell, Saad Abdul-Salaam and even Svensson were slotted next to Kim.

Stefan Frei raved about his South Korean defender, calling him a “trooper.”

But, Kim is officially out of contract. He’s also been entertaining offers from clubs in the Middle East. Kim featured for one season in Qatar, on loan with Al-Sailiya in 2012-13.

However, not all hope is lost for Seattle. Lagerwey mentioned that conversations are still ongoing between the club and players. Also out of contract is Harry Shipp, who was up for selection in MLS expansion but passed up.

As for Smith, the Australian international expressed interest in returning to England. A defender for Bournemouth, Smith spoke with Australian press this week about his desire to return to the English Premier League. Smith used the Sounders to get minutes and get back into the Australian national team program.

What’s the Next Step?

Straight from the Sounders website, “Per MLS policy, the club has until 10:00 a.m. PT on Nov. 21 to re-sign Re-Entry Draft-eligible players, including those players whose contracts were not exercised.”

Last Words: Who is Priority?

The Seattle Sounders are going to be busy. Lagerwey is going to need to make some big-time decisions. Losing a guy like Kim is going to be detrimental to the team. Not only are you losing him, but the Sounders are making it clear that they are ready to move on from Torres.

Seattle needs to prioritize some players before reaching out to others. Kim has to be at the top of the list. He’s proven that he is one of the best defenders in the league — not just in Seattle. He took it a step further this year, keeping a good report despite having to juggle different combinations.

Also, if you’re forgetting, Kim still is learning English. Communication with guys who speak English fluently isn’t always the easiest task for the South Korean. However, throw in a guy like Arreaga who only speaks Spanish, and the communication can be tougher.

If Kim is gone, the only returning player on defense is Leerdam. The Suriname defender was fantastic on defense and offense in 2019. However, doing a major overhaul on defense could very-well effect his game, too.

PHOTO: Stefan Frei gives a pregame speech before the Seattle Sounders take on the Portland Timbers in July. Photo courtesy of Jane Gershovich/Seattle Sounders FC.