The departures of Sanna Nyassi and Tyrone Marshall from last year's team — they're with Colorado this season — were tough to take.
TUKWILA — The list seems endless. Sebastien Le Toux, Stephen King, Freddie Ljungberg, Nathan Sturgis.
Those are the names of a few former teammates Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani rattled off after practice. He misses something about each.
Add Sanna Nyassi and Tyrone Marshall.
Blame depth, success or need, but both players became expendable last November for Seattle and landed on the Colorado Rapids roster. They’ll face their former team Friday at 6:30 p.m.
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“They want to beat us, I know that,” said Zakuani, who stays in touch with Nyassi and Marshall. “And when you play against friends and old teammates, you want to prove to them that they shouldn’t have gotten rid of you or that you’ve improved since they left you. So, they’re both going to be motivated for that.”
Zakuani and teammate James Riley were the most passionate about Nyassi and Marshall’s departure. Upon hearing they were casualties of the expansion draft, Zakuani wrote on Twitter that his “heart sank.” Riley, who was especially close to Marshall’s children, tweeted: “Get them back!!!”
“It’s something that comes with the territory of professional sports,” Riley said. “With Sanna, we kind of traded youth for experience — not to say that’s a good or bad thing.”
A young midfielder, Nyassi was a starter for Seattle’s final 15 games and was central to the U.S. Open Cup titles. Marshall, a veteran defender, was a key reserve and helped with locker-room chemistry.
The Sounders tried a new direction this season, with defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s return from injury and the addition of veteran midfielder Alvaro Fernandez.
“I was thinking 2011 would be a better season for me — to get more playing time and improve on my game,” Nyassi told The Seattle Times before an exhibition game against the Sounders in March. He has appeared in five games with the Rapids, starting one and getting one shot on goal.
“Especially after getting my form, scoring goals and playing well,” he continued. “It kind of hurt. It kind of unsettled me. I had to go to a new team and cope with a new situation.”
The Sounders have had to adjust, too. And the starting lineup still varies, with expectations being higher than the team’s record (1-2-3). Friday, friendships will be pushed aside.
“When you go into an expansion draft, you don’t have a lot of choice in the moves you want to make,” Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. “You’re going to lose some players if you’re a good team. We needed to replace those parts and our goal is always to do better than we did the year before. But we also want to establish consistency and be a team you know you’ve got to reckon with every year, a team that’s going to be in the playoffs every year. … The first two years we’ve done that and we want to go further than we have gone.”
For Zakuani, going further is the only real measure of whether the roster moves were good.
“Time will tell,” he said. “Those were big players that we lost. We brought in some very good players, and we’re playing some good football. But we won’t be able to say we’re better than last year until we rewin the Open Cup and go further in the playoffs. That’s the true test.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org