Sounders get a potential Marshall replacement plan with center back from Ecuador

One center back out, a new one in for the Seattle Sounders.

Hours after Chad Marshall announced his retirement on Wednesday a new center back was arriving at SeaTac airport.

Earlier this month the Sounders signed Ecuadorian Xavier Arreaga, who arrived in Seattle just as the team’s key defensive player of the last five years was exiting because of lingering knee injuries. Arreaga then made his first appearance at Sounders practice on Thursday.

After some early direction on the day’s activities from head coach Brian Schemetzer, Arreaga was asked to come to the front of a makeshift huddle to introduce himself. Sounders fans will have to wait to see him on the field, though. Schmetzer said Arreaga might be in the traveling squad for Sunday’s game at Sporting KC (3 p.m., FSN1) but he won’t be playing.

That on-field debut could be delayed as Arreaga will be leaving the Sounders to represent Ecuador in Copa America 2019 starting June 14 in Brazil.

“Roman (Torres) and Kim (Kee-Hee) have done well, so he (Arreaga) has got to break into that,” Schmetzer said. “We’ll see how rotations for these next two games go and then obviously there’s a big break. We need to manage that and so he and a few other guys will be gone so it’ll be a little while before he gets his feet wet and our hands on him.”

And, just like the first day of school, Arreaga is still just getting to know the names of his new teammates.

“It’s a great group of people, it’s been great to meet the group,” Arreaga said through a translator. “I’m happy and particularly happy to be apart of the Seattle family.”

Arreaga has been on Seattle Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson’s radar for a while. Henderson was on a trip to Ecuador in 2017 to scout a player that the Sounders were interested in. His team just happened to be playing Arreaga’s Barcelona SC squad that night.

While man-marking the prospect Henderson was keeping his eye on, it was Arreaga who became the focus.

“Xavi was marking this guy and I was like, ‘Who is that?’ ” Henderson said. “Many times that happens where you spot a guy when you’re looking at other players and then you start to track them and follow them.”

Henderson, during his observation of Arreaga, noted that Arreaga checked a lot of the boxes they were looking for in a player, including leadership qualities. Arreaga played 10 games for Barcelona SC in 2019 and had been with the club for the last four seasons, scoring eight goals in 79 appearances.

“There was a moment where they (Barcelona SC) were attacking and he (Arreaga) goes forward on a corner kick and sprinted all the way back to get in position to make sure they were set,” Henderson said. “He was getting them organized, and I thought ‘Hey, that’s a good attribute to have.’ And that’s a good thing, character-wise, that shows.”

Arreaga’s arrival in Seattle comes at a good time. The 34-year-old Marshall’s retirement is the latest in a sequence of moves over the last year as the team has been active in rebuilding what had been an aging roster. With a need to get younger on the back line, Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey knows they’ve accomplished that in getting the 24-year-old Ecuadorian defender.

“It was our oldest position group on the team,” Lagerwey said.

“Kim (Kee-Hee) turns 30, everybody else is over 30 so we wanted to get more balanced there. We always talk about progressions and having a good balance. That was part of it, the fact that he was a captain of his team, that kind of thing stands out. That’s something that’s desirable and especially in the back because you’re organizing and leading. Those are qualities that we thought were pretty good.”

The early reviews from his teammates have also been positive.

“I finally had a chance to watch and play with him. I really like him,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “I really like the way he plays and how he is as a person. We’ve picked up some quality players with he and Joevin (Jones).”