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Matt Calkins: Sounders not wasting any time improving a team that already looks among the best in MLS

UPDATED: Fri., May 10, 2019, 6:14 p.m.

Seattle Sounders defender Joevin Jones (33) is tripped up by FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges  as he makes a run on goal during the second half of a  Western Conference semifinal playoff match  Nov. 6, 2016. in Frisco, Texas. (Jeffrey McWhorter / AP)
Seattle Sounders defender Joevin Jones (33) is tripped up by FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges as he makes a run on goal during the second half of a Western Conference semifinal playoff match Nov. 6, 2016. in Frisco, Texas. (Jeffrey McWhorter / AP)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

TUKWILA, Wash. – If there is a notable Seattle sports signing in the spring, Starfire Sports isn’t usually where the press conference is. That time of the year is generally reserved for the Seahawks when it comes to inking deals.

But this week, it was a pair of soon-to-be Sounders who were the transaction talk of the town. A championship-caliber team just got better – but more important, deeper.

Just before the passing of the primary transfer window deadline, Seattle signed center back Xavier Arreaga and left back Joevin Jones. Arreaga comes to the Sounders as a designated player via Barcelona SC of Ecuador, where he spent four seasons. Jones, a member of the Sounders’ 2016 MLS Cup title team, returns via Targeted Allocated Money from German club SV Darmstadt 98, where he has spent the past two and a half seasons.

These are significant additions for a team that usually waits until the summer transfer window to make its midseason makeover. Remember, it was in July 2016 when the Sounders signed Uruguyan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, and late June of last year when they signed Peruvian forward Raul Ruidiaz. Each designated player was essential in resurrecting a Sounders team that seemed hell-bent on missing the playoffs before they arrived.

But unlike each of the past three seasons, this year’s Sounders have been playing well. They sit in fourth place in the Western Conference standings with five wins, four draws and one loss.

So why make this kind of move now?

“Nothing to do with our record, honestly,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerway said. “Kind of a no-brainer. Again, this thing popped up, a guy who was at the top of our list for a long time. You want to swoop in when you get value.”

The second part of that quote was in reference to the 24-year-old Arreaga, who will join a team that already has three players at his position. Two of those players, however, are Chad Marshall and Roman Torres, who are ages 34 and 33, respectively.

It’s unlikely that Arreaga will start right away, but it might prompt speculation as to what the Sounders see in their, um … more experienced defenders’ future.

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer was asked if the Arreaga move had any direct impact on Marshall.

“I mean look, Chad is the three-time defender of the year and a very important cog for us. There’s competition, that’s all I would say,” Schmetzer said. “Chad’s not afraid of any competition, Roman is not afraid of any competition, Kim Kee-hee (the other center back) is not afraid of any competition. When I spoke with Arreaga, he’s not afraid of it. That’s just a part of the sport.”

Arreaga may be the flashier signing of the two, but Jones is the more sentimental. The 27-year-old Trinidadian played with the Sounders in 2016 and 2017, notching three goals and 14 assists over that stretch while winning a title in his first season.

The first thing out of Schmetzer’s mouth when asked about him Wednesday?

“It put a smile on my face.”

The only buzzkill to these deals is that it could be a few weeks until either player starts playing for Seattle. Both are pending receipt of the players’ respective P-1 Visas and International Transfer Certificates. The potential upside, though, is that by the time they get here, the Sounders may already have another big-time player … or at least be on the verge of bringing one in.

Using TAM, the Sounders can “buy down” Arreaga so that he’s no longer a designated player. It won’t cost Arreaga money directly, but it would allow Seattle to sign another DP this summer if they choose to be that ambitious.

Traditionally, that’s the route the Sounders have gone. Then again, for this team, these spring signings are a long way from traditional.

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