TUKWILA — Victor Rodriguez returned to training this week, but don’t get too excited.
When the Sounders midfielder will be available for match-day selection remains unclear.
Rodriguez, 30, initially suffered a left hamstring strain 15 minutes into his team’s victory against Houston in May at CenturyLink Field. He’s had multiple reoccurrences of pain since a brief return in June and hasn’t made an appearance for Seattle since July 6 due to the injury.
“(We’re) still working on Victor,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said after the training session Thursday at the club’s Starfire Sports facility. “He won’t be ready for Sunday’s game, but we’re hoping to have him involved against Colorado (Sept. 7).”
Seattle is home against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday. Schmetzer was optimistic he’d have all of his first-choice players healthy for the key Western Conference duel, and Rodriguez’s work with the training staff beside the Sounders’ main field this week looked promising.
Rodriguez has seen medical specialists regarding the injury, according to Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders general manager and president of soccer. Schmetzer said the prolonged absence isn’t an indication of a bigger issue, but a pattern has developed.
Since the Sounders signed Rodriguez in August 2017, the Spaniard has suffered various injuries that pulled him from starting on the left wing. He began the 2018 season with a right knee injury and after piecing together eight consecutive starts, Rodriguez suffered a hamstring injury.
Rodriguez’s contract, which is paying him approximately $1.5 million this season, expires in December 2019, but Seattle has the option to add one more year.
“He’s missed a lot of games since he’s been with us, and it’s an issue,” Lagerwey said. “This time of year, things get real simple — how do we get our best team on the field? If we do that, we’ve got the best chance to win the title. We need Victor to win the title and we’re doing everything we can.”
Rodriguez’s appeal is easy to spot. The Sounders are 7-2-3 this season when he starts, Rodriguez scoring twice and accounting for three assists in 940 minutes.
“Victor is a 1-v-1 specialist. He keeps you on your toes and ready to defend,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “Right backs don’t want to go up and attack because of that. The willingness to take chances and drive at players — that is very effective because of Victor’s play.”
Schmetzer has found successful options to replace Rodriguez on the left wing. The steady answer is MLS veteran Harry Shipp, who’s started five matches on the left side. He’s played 1,229 minutes overall this season, tallying five goals and three assists.
Another good look for the Sounders was forward Jordan Morris swinging over to the left wing for the rivalry victory in Portland last week that clinched the 2019 Cascadia Cup. Morris outplayed Timbers defender Zarek Valentin twice to set up goals for Roldan and Raul Ruidiaz in the 2-1 outcome.
Assisting is the snag in Shipp and Morris as contingency plans to replace Rodriguez as the Sounders’ season nears its end. The team needs more score-first players to get fast starts against powers like the Galaxy and clinch a playoff berth.
Seattle (12-8-7) currently is third in MLS Western Conference standings, one point ahead of L.A. (13-11-3).
Sounders captain Nico Lodeiro said Thursday he has regular talks with Rodriguez regarding the hamstring injury and remaining positive through any setbacks. Rodriguez declined to be interviewed until he returns to playing, and Lodeiro said Rodriguez won’t attempt a comeback until 100% healthy.
“I’m waiting on him because I like playing with him,” said Lodeiro, who has a team-high 11 assists. “He has very good technique. … It’s not just me, I think the team needs him and likes playing with Victor on the field.”