And why the Sounders are confident they'll be just fine regardless.
Sounders forward Jordan Morris is expected to return from U.S. national team duty in time for next Wednesday’s home match against Houston, according to interim coach Brian Schmetzer, while playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro “could be a possibility” depending on his travel schedule back from Uruguay.
It’s a testament to the spirit of resiliency among the ranks that there’s a sense that Seattle is going to be just fine regardless.
Last Sunday’s 2-1 win at Vancouver wasn’t the prettiest win of Schmetzer’s tenure, but it might have been the most impressive, given all the extenuating circumstances.
Lodeiro was out with a yellow-card suspension. Andreas Ivanschitz was scratched so last minute that his replacement on the game-day roster, Aaron Kovar, hopped on a plane out of Seattle that morning. Midfield depth was tested still further when Alvaro Fernandez pulled up with a hamstring strain less than 10 minutes into the match.
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The victory Seattle managed in their absences lifted a team that was once double-digit points out of the playoff spots four clear of the cutoff line.
“We knew that, for us to climb out of that hole, we need to come together as a team and do it as a team,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said Wednesday. “That doesn’t just consist of 11 guys. That consists of everybody. Therefore, we know that when one guy goes down or has to go away, there are other guys capable of going in.”
That spirit of collectivism starts from the top.
“It definitely comes from him,” Frei said of Schmetzer. “Guys really love that respect that he has for the players, and they’re giving it back to him.”
Schmetzer is often described as a players’ coach, which he defines as giving players agency over their own destinies.
“I’ve been pretty consistent with the story of, I’ve given them ownership of the team,” Schmetzer said after the Vancouver win. “That is something that they believe in. I’ve gotten traction with that.”
He elaborated on that answer after practice on Wednesday at Starfire Sports.
“It’s almost common sense,” Schmetzer said. “Because there are no timeouts, like in football or basketball, or in-between innings like in a baseball game. We have to, because of our sport, have our players feel that they can make decisions on the field because the game is so fluid.”
Behind the scenes, too, both veterans and young players alike are growing into leadership roles.
“I can name 10 guys that are fit to be captain on this team,” Brad Evans said last week. “In years past, maybe certain guys wouldn’t have stepped up and put the team on their shoulders. In this season, guys have matured a little bit more.
“Maybe in years past, when things weren’t going right, it was pass the buck. This year is different. Things aren’t going right, give me the responsibility. I want to help. I want to turn this thing around.”
That mantra will hold true whether or not Morris and Lodeiro hustle back into town in time for the Dynamo game. And it’s at least a partial explanation as to how the Sounders have so swiftly and totally turned their season around.