Clint Demsey got called up for Gold Cup tournament duty with the U.S. Men's National Team on Sunday, while midfielder Cristian Roldan will be returned to the Sounders ahead of Wednesday's game at CenturyLink Field against D.C. United
The Sounders begin the unofficial “second half” of their season this week following a mid-term break, but will be doing it without star forward Clint Dempsey after he was called up Sunday by the U.S. Men’s National Team for Gold Cup quarterfinals duty.
On the positive front, midfielder Cristian Roldan has been sent back from his USMNT stint and will join the team ahead of Wednesday’s resumption of Major League Soccer regular season action against D.C. United. The Sounders manged to go 4-2-2 their previous eight matches ahead of the two-week Gold Cup break and remain perched right on the playoff red line between qualifiers and non-qualifiers.
Now, the task ahead for coach Brian Schmetzer and company is to build off that momentum despite again having to juggle players due to injury and national team absences. Losing Dempsey doesn’t help, as he’d been the team’s top offensive player of late with three goals his previous two games to earn MLS Player of the Week honors.
“I’d prefer to have kind of a solidified lineup that I could roll out every day,” Schmetzer said. “I would call it a challenge…it might be an opportunity for Aaron Kovar and some of those younger players that are chomping at the bit to play. I would say that’s opportunity. But as coaches, you would kind of like to have a solidified group.”
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That said, injuries to Osvaldo Alonso and Chad Marshall should give the Sounders opportunity to experiment with various player combinations they’ve pondered for some time. One obvious one, with the return of Roldan, could be to pair him with Gustav Svensson in the defensive midfield.
The Sounders have viewed Roldan as Alonso’s heir apparent. And they signed Svensson as a defensive midfielder, but have mostly used him on the back line as an injury replacement.
With Alonso expected to miss time deep into August with an MCL sprain in his knee, the Sounders should get an extended look at the Roldan-Svensson pairing if they choose to do so. Alonso’s latest knee injury was awfully close to the one he suffered ahead of last December’s MLS Cup final and there was already some concern amongst the team’s brass that he was wearing down.
So, no quick return for him.
In Marshall’s case, he was out running on the side during workouts this week, so it’s possible his return from a foot sprain could be quicker than the initial 4-to-6-week prognosis. But there’s no way he plays Wednesday versus D.C. United and its unlikely he’ll be back for next Saturday’s action against San Jose.
That could give the Sounders their first chance to use Brad Evans at the center back spot alongside Roman Torres as they attempt to work in newcomer Kelvin Leerdam at right back. Leerdam was a Target Allocation Money signing, so he’ll start often at right back and bump Evans to other positions — though the team plans to break him in slowly as he gets used to his new league.
Left back Joevin Jones got pushed up to the wing against Colorado and could see more action there is Nouhou Tolo stays healthy enough to take his left back spot. Nouhou came off the practice pitch Friday with what looked to be a banged-up shoulder, or elbow, and the Sounders have yet to update his status.
And there’s also the aforementioned midfielder and Seattle native Kovar, who looked dangerous flanked out wide throughout the team’s July 4 victory at Colorado ahead of the break. After missing the first 14 games due to an off-season groin injury, he’s come on strong since his early June debut against Houston.
“I feel good,” Kovar said Friday. “So, I’m just looking forward to keeping playing and helping the team win.”
And the team needs to continue picking up wins in a Western Conference that’s increasingly logjammed in the middle, with three points separating seeds No. 3 through No. 7. The Sounders are tied for the sixth and final playoff spot with Vancouver — which holds two games in hand — with 15 games left in a schedule that, for them, is already more than half done.
Still, that’s a better spot than the defending MLS Cup champions found themselves in last July when they sat dead last and needed to win nearly every game to qualify for post-season play. Kovar feels the team is tight-knit enough to hold things together while it waits for a slew of regulars to return.
“I mean, it’s just the business we’re in,” he said of the lack of continuity. “It’s the only way we’ve ever known. So, you can’t really look at it with any other perspective. Things can change at any time. Injuries, callups. It’s quick change.”
And change the Sounders have certainly grown used to in a topsy-turvy season where few lineups have ever been identical.