Of greater long-term concern for the Sounders is preventing the wear-and-tear type of afflictions that have dogged them from the beginning of this season, the groin pulls and oh-so-many hamstring strains.
Roman Torres’ knee injury is the most serious in a Sounders season with plenty of contenders, but it is more anomaly than another indication of a growing problem.
Torres, who suffered a torn anterior-cruciate ligament, will miss at least the rest of this season, and though Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said the club was “hopeful” and “optimistic” that the center back will return at some point in 2016, his recovery timetable stretches for the foreseeable future.
“You can’t get a full evaluation of the knee until you actually go in there and do surgery,” Lagerwey said Tuesday, and that might take a week while doctors wait for swelling to go down. “(His recovery time) could be longer than what the standard is. It’s fair to say it’s not going to be shorter than six to nine months.”
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The injury’s long-term impact on Torres’ game remains to be seen. He likes to play in the air, his 6-foot-2 frame rising high above shorter attackers who challenge him for headers.
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“I don’t think he’s Derrick Rose where he has to explode to the rim 30 times a night,” Lagerwey said, referring to the Chicago Bulls’ star, “but yeah, he’s got to get up on aerial duels and he’s got to be able to battle, and that will take some strength around (his knee).”
Yet ACL tears, as damaging as they are, are a fluky kind of injury. Torres’ injury didn’t involve much contact — his knee just buckled during a landing he’d made a thousand times before.
Of greater long-term concern for the Sounders is preventing the wear-and-tear type of afflictions that have dogged them all season, the groin pulls and oh-so-many hamstring strains.
Every MLS summer brings bumps and bruises and expanding injury reports. But most of Seattle’s veterans say they’ve never seen anything quite like this year.
Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso has been in and out of the lineup, forward Obafemi Martins missed two consecutive months, and strike partner Clint Dempsey still has a sore hamstring.
Age is a factor. Most of Seattle’s core is around age 30, and the rotation includes long-in-the-tooth veterans such as Zach Scott (35) and Leo Gonzalez (34).
“With Leo, I think you’re more inclined to pull a hamstring at 35 than at 25,” coach Sigi Schmid said a few weeks ago. “We have some young players, but we’re not a young team.”
That didn’t affect the club’s blueprint much when it went shopping for summer reinforcements. Torres and Erik Friberg are 29, and Nelson Valdez and Andreas Ivanschitz are 31.
“You always want to try to get younger, but our young players had an opportunity to play during that period of time,” Schmid said. “Some of our young guys stepped up and did all right. Others guys didn’t necessarily make use of their opportunities.”
When it comes to muscle strains, it’s also natural to cast a wary eye at the matted-down CenturyLink Field turf. There’s a reason that aging European veterans such as former Red Bulls attacker Thierry Henry and others often sat out games played on artificial surfaces.
The Sounders Sports Science department has begun studying the possible toll turf takes on an athlete’s body vs. natural grass. Scott doesn’t need to see the analytics.
“It’s how you feel after the game,” Scott said this year. “You put in the same amount of effort or intensity whether you’re playing on turf or grass. It’s the crawling out of bed or trying to lift kids up the day after. I’m putting dishes in the dishwasher, and I can barely bend down because of the turf.”
Few of these problems are simple fixes.
In March, the Sounders re-upped their CenturyLink lease through 2028, and newer turf is set to be installed this offseason. The Seahawks are unlikely to switch to natural grass in the near future.
Short of blowing up the roster this offseason, the Sounders’ core isn’t getting any younger. This team is built to win now, and that’s unlikely to change.
The Sounders are focusing on what they can control. Schmid and his staff have tweaked their warmup and stretching routines, and have taken a hard look at their choice of drills and exercises.
They took a calculated risk, building so heavily around veterans, and there’s still enough time in the season for the payoff to outweigh the loss.
“It’s not the time of year to be reflecting on how hard your life is,” Lagerwey said. “It’s the time to be saying, ‘How do we win the title?’
“The way you win a title is overcoming adversity.”
If so, maybe the Sounders are still MLS Cup front-runners after all. Torres’ injury is just the latest bit of adversity, and this team has had plenty of practice.