TUKWILA — Nouhou joined Sounders FC training on Saturday.
The Cameroonian defender is expected to be available for selection Wednesday for the decisive leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Seattle travels to play New York City FC at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.
Nouhou missed the semifinal opener at Lumen Field due to yellow-card accumulation across CONCACAF competitions. He subbed on for 14 minutes in Seattle’s win at Minnesota earlier this month, Nouhou’s first run with the Sounders since helping his national team qualify for the FIFA men’s World Cup in Qatar this fall.
The Sounders received quality minutes at left back from Kelyn Rowe in place of Nouhou despite the position not being Rowe’s strongest. The veteran completed 79.6% of his passes against NYCFC and had a pivotal cross to right back Alex Roldan in the lead-up to Albert Rusnak’s goal in the 16th minute.
With Nouhou’s return, Rowe will likely shift to another spot in the starting lineup or the bench for the second leg.
“Kelyn’s usefulness to our club is understated,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer after Saturday’s session at Starfire Sports. “He’s done great since he’s been here. Left back is a bit of a stretch because he’s right footed and that’s unorthodox, it’s not traditional.
“But he did a really good job defensively. Getting the ball over to his right foot and crossing balls. Getting the ball to his right foot and changing the point of attack was effective. He was good in our possession sequences. So, he filled in very well at that position.”
Sounders center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade is the only player who wasn’t part of full training Saturday. He suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Los Angeles Galaxy on March 12 and has missed the past four matches through all competitions.
Schmetzer said there’s “probably no chance” Yeimar can feature Wednesday. Everyone else was declared healthy.
Play it again
The Sounders worked to improve some areas Saturday, but Schmetzer said the team isn’t going to change too much headed into the second leg. Schmetzer is expecting plenty of changes from the Cityzens.
Either side is on the cusp of advancing to their first CCL final.
“New York City can play better,” said Schmetzer, whose club won the semifinal opener 3-1. “I know their coach (Ronny Deila) is going to get them to play better. So, we have to be prepared for that the entirety of the game not just focused on one singular event.”
Seattle had a 3-0 lead in aggregate scoring headed into the second leg of the CCL quarterfinal series against Club Leon last month and aimed to score in the opening half to make any comeback difficult. The technical staff is delivering the same message for Wednesday.
“And what happened? We were defending for our lives for large parts of the game,” Schmetzer said of the 1-1 draw at Leon’s namesake stadium. The Liga MX side scored in second-half stoppage time.
NYCFC was able to score at Lumen, which helps their pursuit of moving on. Cityzens forward Thiago Eduardo Andrade took advantage of a miscommunication in defensive coverage to slip a shot past Sounders keeper Stefan Frei in the 27th minute. Jordan Morris smashed the go-ahead score seven minutes later.
“Were there any critical individual mistakes on the play that they scored? No,” Schmetzer said. “It was a combination of a few little things that we could’ve done better. I wouldn’t pin that on one particular player. The search for perfection is always there, but it’s pro sports and your opponent sometimes breaks you down. That’s why you have a guy like Stef Frei in the back. He usually saves our butt.”
Speaking of saving
Frei, who’s made 20 CCL appearances, is tied for most saves this season in the regional tournament, according to stats provided by CONCACAF. His four saves against NYCFC gives Frei 16 total to match Comunicaciones F.C. keeper Kevin Moscoso. The Guatemalan side was dispatched by New York City in the quarterfinals.
Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan is the tournament leader in assists with five.