TUKWILA – Gustav Svensson doesn’t mind getting teased about his age. At 33, the Sounders FC midfielder knows he and goalkeeper Stefan Frei are now the most-seasoned players on the roster.
Just don’t underestimate either one.
“When I was 18, I remember looking at the 30-plus players and thought, ‘How do they even get out of bed?’ ” said Svensson, who turned 33 in February. “And, ‘Wow, I can’t tackle this guy because I’m going to break his hip.’ Now, I don’t feel any different. I’ve noticed myself getting more easily injured. Small injuries, so I have to take care of my body more.”
One of those small injuries was a left calf strain during preseason training camp in Mexico City that delayed Svensson’s debut with the Sounders this season. He participated in full training this week at Starfire Sports and is available to play Saturday when Seattle (1-0) hosts the Columbus Crew (1-0) at CenturyLink Field.
“It took a longer time than I thought it would,” Svensson said of rehabbing the injury. “Now it’s just how many minutes I can play. It’s hard to say. I haven’t played a game in a while. I can do training fine and do all the fitness fine. So hopefully I can do as many minutes as possible.”
Yeimar Gomez Andrade, the Colombian center back signed in February, is also available to start after issues obtaining his U.S. P1 Visa. If both make the cut, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer could unveil his new-look back line, which is still an unknown after four defenders from last season’s MLS Cup-winning roster either were left unsigned in December or retired.
Svensson’s role in the midfield will be alongside Joao Paulo, the signed Designated Player from Brazil who’s already recorded two goals and two assists this season. The goals were against CD Olimpia in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament. Svensson missed both matches and the MLS opener against Chicago on Sunday, which the Sounders won 2-1.
“It’s pretty easy to play with him because he sees all of the open spaces,” Svensson said. “He’s not as eager as some young players are, just running around. He’s a good player, and I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
A new stat between Svensson and Joao Paulo could be long-ball service for scoring.
Svensson had a beautiful long assist in the MLS Cup match against Toronto FC that forward Raul Ruidiaz chased down for a goal in the 90th minute. Joao Paulo displayed the same skill in an exhibition match at CenturyLink Field against Sacramento Republic FC last month.
“(They’re) two really experienced players, and I’m not calling them old,” Schmetzer said of Svensson and Joao Paulo, who’s 28. “It’ll be a little bit of work in progress because Gustav missed some considerable time down there in Mexico when we were doing some of the tactical stuff. But we’ve got some ideas figured out of how we can play out from the back on our goal kicks and during the run of play. …It’ll make our team look a little different, but hopefully for the better.”
The Sounders will likely be without co-captain Nico Lodeiro due to tendinitis in his right hamstring. He’s the final piece to the revamped midfield yet to play this season and was key in Seattle’s last match against Columbus.
Lodeiro played the road game last July just a week after helping his Uruguayan national team reach the Copa America quarterfinals in Brazil. The attacking midfielder scored both goals against the Crew in a 2-1 win.
Columbus has undergone multiple changes, like the Sounders. But coach Caleb Porter, who was hired in January 2019, and midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who was signed in November 2019, are familiar to Seattle from their stints with the Portland Timbers.
“Adding these guys to the mix and realizing what we can be at full strength is something we’re looking forward to,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said of Svensson and Andrade. “We’re really excited to have them back.”
Despite growing concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the Sounders’ match against Columbus at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night is slated to be played as scheduled.
The team and stadium staff are taking precautions, including increased sanitation stations and thorough cleaning before and after the game, the team said in a statement Wednesday. Earlier this week, King County Public Health announced new safety guidelines, recommending people 60 and older or people with underlying health conditions avoid large gatherings and public spaces.