Sounders defender Roman Torres is suspended for the team's home opener Sunday, forcing midfielder Gustav Svensson to make his first start at the center back position. Oniel Fisher takes over at right back.
Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson has spent the opening weeks of the Major League Soccer season helping the team cope with the key loss of one veteran defender and now will do the same with another.
Swedish import Svensson, 30, had filled in at right back the Sounders’ first two games in place of an injured Brad Evans. Now, for Sunday’s home opener against the dangerous New York Red Bulls, Svensson heads to center back to replace Roman Torres, suspended one game for violent conduct against Montreal last weekend.
Oniel Fisher will get his first start of the season at the right back spot.
“I’m a center midfielder, but a defensive one, so it’s pretty similar to center back,” Svensson said after a team workout Saturday at CenturyLink Field. “You have a little bit more options going up.”
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Svensson has at least played the position before, which he never had really done at right back throughout his professional career in Sweden, Turkey and China prior to joining MLS this season. The challenges at right back showed somewhat in Montreal, as the Impact stacked Svensson’s side of the field and had him scrambling at times.
“It’s always challenging going to different positions, especially with a new team,” Svensson said. “Even if I had played my original position, I think my first games would have been a challenge because you have to learn the new players, the league. It was a challenge, but I’m up to it. I’m just happy to try to help the team.”
Svensson feels his comfort with the ball and ability to build up a rush from the back should serve as natural fits at his latest position on Sunday. “I’m pretty good reading the play as well, so hopefully I can prevent counterattacks and stuff like that and we can keep possession.”
The Red Bulls enter with a 2-0 record, but have only scored one goal on their own. The other two came via own goals from opponents.
Veteran striker Bradley Wright Phillips, last year’s Golden Boot winner, is the big threat the short-handed Sounders defenders’ will have to contain.
“You just have to read the run from a little bit earlier on,” Svensson said of stopping Phillips, who also led MLS in scoring in 2014. “He’s a fast guy, You just have to keep deep and try to kill the space where he wants to run in to. Not try to be one-versus-one with him. Try to have a bit more distance.”
The Sounders, Torres in particular, got burned a couple of times by speedy forwards in the opener against Houston and then again last weekend at Montreal. Svensson hopes the momentum of a crowd expected to approach 45,000 — the biggest for a home opener in franchise history — helps get the Sounders pumped-up and off to a quicker start than when twice falling behind 2-0 in their opening games.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer says all of the juggling of pieces can make it difficult for a team to find its rhythm early. And he expects a similar transition period Sunday with new starters at two positions in Svensson and Fisher.
“They’ve both played those positions before, so it should be OK,” Schmetzer said. “But it does take a while for teams to jell. That will be the challenge.”
The Sounders could have gone with Tony Alfaro at center back on Sunday, but Svensson has logged significant playing time the first two games and is the more seasoned of the pair. Schmetzer said he felt the team performed OK in the back the first two weeks, given the circumstances.
“Losing Brad (Evans) certainly hurt,” Schmetzer said. “That hurt. Losing Roman (Torres) because of the suspension is going to hurt. But that’s why we have a deep team.”
Schmetzer is looking for a quicker start from his 0-1-1 team, hoping the home crowd’s momentum can be turned into a positive.
“We need a win,” Schmetzer said.