mls Nashville SC

Race to the top, how the MLS Cup finalists were built: Seattle Sounders

Handwalla Bwana played part of this season with the Sounders. Now he’s a Nashville Man. Photo courtesy Major League Soccer.

Tonight, Columbus Crew and Seattle Sounders will compete for the MLS Cup. For a fledgling club like Nashville, it’s worth taking a look at how those teams built their rosters. You can’t get to the summit. unless you have an idea of how to reach it.

Yesterday, I took a look at Columbus Crew. Today, let’s see how the Sounders acquired their talent.

Seattle Sounders

The Sounders are considered one of the best-run franchises in the league, and part of that is the diversity they have in acquisition mechanisms. It starts, however, with an incredibly productive academy.


This is a team that is primarily based around its homegrown talent. That means there are a lot of these guys.

M Josh Atencio (18 yo, 38 min, -0.11 G+) – A metro Seattle native who joined the SSFC academy in 2016 and signed a Homegrown contract this Summer (after previously being contracted to affiliate Tacoma Defiance).

M Ethan Debbelaere (18 yo, 56 min, -0.05 G+) – A Seattle native who joined the SSFC academy in 2015 and signed a Homegrown contract this Summer.

M Shandon Hopeau (22 yo, 116 min, -0.18 G+) – Originally from Hawaii, he joined the SSFC Academy in 2016 after the Sounders claimed the Aloha State as part of their HG territory. He signed with the affiliate (then known as Sounders 2) in 2017 and with the senior team this Summer.

M Danny Leyva (17 yo, 70 min, -0.07 G+) – A Chicago native who played for the Barcelona USA Academy in Las Vegas before moving to Seattle at 13 to join the academy. He officially became Homegrown-eligible the following year, and signed his professional contract with the Sounders early in the 2019 season.

F Jordan Morris (26 yo, 1546 min, +3.18 G+) – The jewel of the Sounders Academy, Morris is a Seattle-area lifer who signed with the team that developed him after three years at Stanford (though he also went on trial in Germany at that time). Has obviously developed into, uh, much more than that. As of 2019, he wasn’t even on a TAM deal yet.

GK Trey Muse (21 yo, 0 min) – A Louisville native who moved to Seattle at 16 to join the Sounders academy. Played two years of college ball at Indiana before signing with the senior team at the beginning of last season.

M Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez (18yo, 0 min) – A Central California native who moved to Seattle at age 16 to join the SSFC Academy. Signed a pro deal with Sounders 2 in 2018 (after previously appearing as an academy player), and the senior team early in 2019.

Draft picks

D Alex Roldan (24 yo, 610 min, +0.14 G+) – Selected in the first round of the 2018 Draft out of Seattle University. Option declined after the 2019 season, but renegotiated entering 2020.

M Cristian Roldan (25 yo, 1671 min, -0.09 G+) – Picked in the first round of the 2015 Draft out of the University of Washington. He was a Generation Adidas signing, and was off-budget with the Sounders for his first two seasons in MLS.

Intra-league (and domestic) acquisitions

F Will Bruin (31 yo, 567 min, -0.35 G+) – Traded from Houston Dynamo in exchange for an undisclosed amount of combined Allocation Money between the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He entered the league as a draft pick.

GK Stefan Cleveland (26 yo, 0 min) – Traded from Chicago Fire between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Seattle also received a second-round draft pick and gave Chicago its first-rounder (the final pick of the first round). Chicago gave away Cleveland in exchange for moving up nine draft spots.

F Justin Dhillon (25 yo, 13 min, -0.03 G+) – Joined S2 prior to the 2019 season after being released from LA Galaxy II (he came up through the Galaxy Academy and played four years of college soccer in between). Signed with the senior team mid-season 2019.

GK Stefan Frei (34 yo, 2081 min, 0.96 G/xG) – Traded from Toronto FC after the 2013 season in exchange for a first-round draft pick. Was initially a TFC draft pick. Has been an every-game starter ever since. Although he’s from Switzerland, he’s never taken an international slot, as he received his green card while in college and has been a citizen since 2017.

M Miguel Ibarra (30 yo, 304 min, +0.03 G+) – Signed after clearing waivers when Minnesota United declined his option after the 2019 season (not technically a free agent, but effectively so). Initially was a Timbers draft pick in 2012, but played almost his entire career in Minnesota, joining when they were in NASL.

D/M Jimmy Medranda (26 yo, 21 min, +0.08 G+) – Traded from Nashville SC (hey I know them!) along with $225k allocation money in exchange for Homegrown winger Handwalla Bwana near the end of this season. He had previously played for Sporting KC before being picked in the 2019 Expansion Draft. The Colombian is a green-card holder and does not require an international slot.

D Shane O’Neill (27 yo, 1200 min, +0.30 G+) – Signed as an out-of-contract player (previously with Orlando City) at the beginning of the 2020 season. Born in Ireland, he grew up in Boulder, Colo. and entered the league in 2012 as a Homegrown after three year with the Rapids Academy.

D Román Torres (34 yo, 48 min, +0.00 G+) – Traded from Inter Miami CF in exchange for a first-round 2021 draft pick late in the 2020 season. Miami had picked him up as a free agent in preseason (he initially entered the league mid-season 2015 on a TAM contract with Seattle, which acquired him from the Colombian first division). He received his green card prior to the 2018 season, and does not require an international slot.

International acquisitions

D Xavier Arreaga (26 yo, 1158 min, -0.80 G+) – Signed on a transfer from Ecuador’s Barcelona SC in May 2019. Was initially a designated player, but was bought down with Targeted Allocation Money this season. He still occupies an international slot.

D Jordy Delem (27 yo, 805 min, -0.20 G+) – Signed with S2 out of his native Martinique in 2016. Signed with the first team prior to the 2017 season. Required an international slot in 2017 and 2018 before receiving a green card entering 2019.

D Yeimar Gomez Andrade (28 yo, 1696 min, +0.07 G+) – Signed using targeted allocation money from Argentina’s top flight at the beginning of this season. He requires an international slot.

D Joevin Jones (29 yo, 896 min, +0.51 G+) – Signed with TAM from 2.Bundesliga’s Darmstadt 98 near the beginning of the 2019 season. The Trinidadian requires an international slot.

D Kelvin Leerdam (30 yo, 1586 min, +0.95 G+) – Signed with TAM out of Dutch Eredivisie in the Summer window during the 2017 season. The Suriname native received his green card prior to the 2019 season and no longer requires an international slot.

M Nicolás Lodeiro (31 yo, 1854 min, +0.69 G+) – Signed as a Designated Player from Argentine power Boca Juniors in the mid-season transfer window in 2016. He has previously played in his native Uruguay, the Netherlands, and Brazil. Received his green card prior to the 2018 season and no longer requires an international slot.

M João Paulo (29 yo, 1521 min, +1.39 G+) – Signed at the beginning of the 2020 season as a Designated Player out of his native Brazil. He requires an international slot.

F Raúl Ruidíaz (30 yo, 1245 min, -0.78 G+) – Signed in the mid-season 2018 window on a transfer from Liga MX’s Morelia. Is a Designated Player and requires an international slot.

D Brad Smith (26 yo, 150 min, +0.08 G+) – Signed on loan from the Premier League’s AFC Bournemouth mid-season 2018 on a year-long loan (which was later extended through the full 2019 season). Re-signed late in 2020 on a free transfer. The Australian/Englishman requires an international slot.

D Gustav Svensson (33 yo, 660 min, +0.06 G+) – Joined in 2017 as a discovery player. Sounders got him on a free transfer after the implementation of China’s foreign player restrictions meant Guangzhou couldn’t roster him anymore. The Swede requires an international slot (surprisingly not picking up a green card despite being in Seattle for nearly four years).

D Nouhou Tolo (23 yo, 1159 min, +0.01 G+) – Signed to S2 from Rainbow Bamenda in his native Cameroon in early 2016. Signed with the Sounders prior to the 2017 season. He requires an international slot (another surprising green-card non-holder).

Part 3 comes next: the lessons.

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