Much was made of Obafemi Martins’ abrupt preseason departure to China — rightfully so, given his goal-scoring prowess. But the veterans that preceded him out the door, however, also help to explain why the Sounders have struggled to create scoring opportunities this season.
Colorado Rapids winger Marco Pappa will miss the next two to four weeks of the MLS season because of a sprained left knee, having been injured at the tail end of yet another influential performance against the Red Bulls.
And though a significant role in Colorado’s surprisingly strong start can be attributed to the Guatemalan attacker, the Rapids won’t be the only ones feeling the dull ache of Pappa’s absence when the Sounders come to town Saturday night.
Much was made of Obafemi Martins’ abrupt preseason departure to China — rightfully so, given his goal-scoring prowess in Seattle. The veterans that preceded him out the door, however, also help to explain why the Sounders have struggled to create scoring opportunities this season.
Pappa, who has a goal and three assists in seven appearances for the Rapids, tallied nine goals and 11 assists in two years with Seattle — including two goals in a 2014 match vs. the Galaxy that clinched the Supporters’ Shield. Lamar Neagle had a frustrating campaign last year but notched 17 goals and 13 assists in the two seasons prior. Chad Barrett scored 12 goals in two campaigns as a reliable rotation guy.
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All left town in December: Pappa to Colorado, Neagle to D.C. United and Barrett, eventually, to San Jose as a free agent.
Though Barrett has yet to appear for the Earthquakes, Neagle made a noteworthy first impression with a goal and assist in his first five games.
“In the camp, we knew what those players provided us,” Sounders captain Brad Evans said this week. “It was a massive spark. It was a veteran presence off the bench. …. That can’t be understated. People will talk all the time: ‘Get rid of this guy. Get rid of that guy, because he’s not producing and we’re paying him all this money.’ But at the end of the day, if you don’t have a deep bench, you don’t go far in this league.”
Martins scored more than one-third of Seattle’s 44 goals last season, netting 15. Yet the team also must replace the 12 goals and eight assists from the other, aforementioned three.
“Those are a lot of goals,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “You’ve got to give the young guys a chance to develop and grow, and it’s not going to be immediate sometimes.
“Oalex (Anderson) has caused some danger. He’ll keep working. (Jordan) Morris finally got his goal. He’ll keep working. All those guys have had good moments. … You’ve got to give them some time and give them some encouragement.”
Seattle has scored six goals in six games this season, that total tied for last in the Western Conference. Just half of those have been scored by forwards, with center back Chad Marshall tied for the team lead.
Schmid and general manager Garth Lagerwey have spoken with justification about injecting of youth into a roster that was among the oldest in the league. The shift in emphasis always was likely to come with early-season growing pains, but that hasn’t necessarily made it easy to watch as former standbys Pappa and Neagle have contributed elsewhere.
“This year, we’ve gone a little bit younger off the bench,” Evans said. “In time, you hope that that pays dividends in the end. These guys, 21, 22 years old should come off the bench and provide an immediate spark. But there is something to be said about having veteran savvy-ness coming off the bench, grabbing goals and being in the right place at the right time. It’s all up to these guys. It’s not up to me. A good balance is important.”