TUKWILA – Over Sounders FC’s first 4½ seasons, goalkeeper was the first and easiest name to write on the lineup sheet.
The team made just five changes with its starter over its first 145 games, not including Kasey Keller’s retirement after the 2011 season, for a remarkable run of consistency at the position.
Just the past 20 games, however, the team has made six changes at goalkeeper for a number of reasons — from injuries to suspensions to ineffectiveness — and perhaps a seventh could come in Thursday’s second leg of the Western Conference semifinals against rival Portland.
Coach Sigi Schmid has gone nearly a month not committing to a starter when both Michael Gspurning and Marcus Hahnemann were available.
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That hasn’t changed this week as Gspurning returns from a red-card suspension.
“Portland will find out on Thursday,” Schmid said, with a smile.
So does this compare to the old football adage: If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t really have one?
“It’s different in football because the quarterback’s calling your plays,” Schmid said. “Your offense runs through them. … Goalkeeper is an important position, but it’s not like he’s playmaking your game and running your offense. If you had two playmakers and you were interchanging them all the time, I think that would be similar.”
Few might have expected the uncertainty at the position to last this long when Gspurning lost his starting job in early October after allowing nine goals in two blowout losses. The team’s faith in both him and Hahnemann makes it harder to make a definitive decision.
Goalkeeper coach Tom Dutra noted that practice, when it comes to fighting for the starting position, has become “very competitive.”
“They welcome the challenge,” Dutra said. “They’ve upped their game each and every day. They’re preparing like, ‘Look, I want to make sure I’m the guy.’ ”
Captaincy isn’t often trumpeted on soccer teams, so Brad Evans wearing the captain’s armband the past few games might have gone unnoticed.
Mauro Rosales had assumed the large part of that role upon Keller’s retirement, and Osvaldo Alonso has often had it when Rosales is out. The recent change to Evans, an “original” MLS Sounder who has become a regular with the U.S. national team, was largely player-inspired.
“I’ve let them decide,” said Schmid. “I’m not a big one on being a coach who says, ‘OK, I’m going to determine who the captain is.’ … As I’ve said before, you need a lot of captains on the field, you don’t need just one, and I think it was good to see them determine that and take that responsibility themselves. As to why it happened, I didn’t ask. As long as they’re happy with it, I’m happy with it.”
Evans said captaincy is an honor, first and foremost.
“I’m ready to take that on,” he said. “I’m in a position where I think I can contribute in a game, focus on my game, but also have a leadership role, as well. … I’ll wear it as long as I can.”
• DeAndre Yedlin (ankle) and Zach Scott (cracked rib) were able to practice Tuesday, as was forward Obafemi Martins (groin). Most notable was Martins, who Schmid said, “stepped it up from (Monday), so that was really, really encouraging.”
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @joshuamayers.