Coming off their second MLS Cup Championship in 2019, it was going to be interesting what changes the Seattle Sounders management would do in the offseason. Moving forward from club icon Ozzie Alonso who left for Minnesota United as a free agent after the 2018 season, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer paired Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson together in central midfield for 2019. It seemed questionable at first for the team to pursue another central defensive midfielder when there was already an abundance of talent in that position. The process of signing a Designated Player in the Winter Transfer Window proved advantageous and beneficial for the club. Since João Paulo arrived to the Seattle Sounders in January this year, he’s checked off a lot of boxes of things the Seattle Sounders need now this season and the next few years ahead. Without a doubt he may be the smartest designated player signing the Sounders have made.
A Great Deal at A Great Time
Sounders FC General Manger Garth Lagerwey usually signs Designated Players or TAM signings usually in the Summer Transfer Window. That wasn’t the case for this particular signing, as Lagerwey wasted no time in negotiating a deal setting the club up successfully for the long haul. Not to mention deal the Sounders got Paulo from Brazilian Club Botafogo proved advantageous. The Sounders were reported from the website Sounder at Heart, to have paid a loan fee of $1.25 million dollars for one year. Once the loan ends at the end of 2020, Botafogo have given the Sounders the option to buy Paulo with a sum equivalent to the loan fee. If the Sounders choose that route and sign Paulo to permanent multiyear extension than the club could spread the cap out no longer occupying a Designated Player spot.
Position and Playing Style
Paulo’s primary role is a central defensive midfielder playing as a box-to-box midfielder. He disrupts and breaks up the ball possession of the other team in central midfield areas of the pitch. Joao is a player with great technical abilities with the ball and stamina who can free roam all over the pitch dropping all the way back to his team’s goal to help defensively, making a challenge to win the ball back for his team. He can even go forward on the attack as a midfield playmaker stringing passes to teammates in open areas similar to that of Sounders teammate Nicolas Lodeiro if needed too as well.
Beneficial In More Ways Than One
João Paulo certainly brought a few things the Sounders needed than just another designated player. His playing style and presence on the pitch allows Lodeiro to not come back defensively as often as he has done in previous seasons. This also allows Lodeiro to stay higher up the pitch saving stamina to be used solely to continue being the midfield maestro that he already is.
Paulo’s similar playstyle to that of Lodeiro comes in handy for the Sounders too. Whenever Lodeiro has been injured or away on national team duty its clear enough the Sounders simply can’t function effectively without their playmaker.
Paulo is more comfortable playing in defensive midfield because he can see the field connecting long passes to players in wide areas. However, he can fill in the role as a #10 playmaker if needed. As was the case in CONCACAF Champions League and the first two regular season matches of MLS this season when Nicolas Lodeiro was recovering from hamstring tendinitis. In his first four matches as a Sounder across all competitions, Paulo scored two goals and recorded two assists.
Even better, it’s unlikely that Paulo will be called into play for the Brazilian National Team anytime soon. There have been many times in recent years the Sounders roster has been stretched thin when players have gone on International Team Duty. Having Paulo is a luxury the Sounders need when they play regular season matches when player are on international duty.
Paulo has been everything the Sounders needed for in 2020. In this altered season due to Covid-19, Paulo has started 17 of 19 regular season matches scoring two goals and making five assists. It’s what he does in matches that can’t be recorded on a score sheet or in the stat sheet that makes him crucial to the club’s on field chemistry. Only one match away from a potential fourth trip to an MLS Cup Final, Paulo has met and raised the bar of expectations of the club. In doing so, João Paulo is the smartest designated player signing the Sounders have ever made.