The Sounders were impressed enough by Gustav Svensson's performance at center back last Sunday that they've cut ties with veteran trialist Darrius Barnes, who'd been rehabbing an injury with the team in hopes of signing on.
For much of training camp, the Sounders were thinking trialist Darrius Barnes would eventually form part of their roster this coming season. The veteran New England Revolution defender had missed much of the past two seasons due to injury and again got hurt at the tail end of camp but was seasoned enough that a Sounders club shorthanded on defense felt it would eventually need him.
That came to an end this week when the Sounders cut ties with Barnes after he’d spent the past month rehabilitating an upper leg injury with them in hopes of signing on. The move by the Sounders was prompted by the showing of veteran midfielder Gustav Svensson last Sunday when he started at center back against the New York Red Bulls and did a superb job of taking star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips out of the game for the most part.
“We had a very good performance from Gustav at center back,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey told The Seattle Times on Thursday. “I think we have four veteran players on our team that can play center back — Brad Evans and Gustav (Svensson) in addition to (Chad) Marshall and (Roman) Torres. And we only have one good young player in Tony Alfaro. So, we looked at the distribution of players at that position and felt that we might be better served at trying to identify a young player.”
So, going forward, the team will try to find another young center back. They aren’t rushing to do so, primarily because the emergence of Svensson as a viable candidate at that spot has removed any short term urgency.
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Svensson and Alfaro will each start at center back this Saturday when the Sounders play a “friendly” against Mexican side Necaxa at CenturyLink Field. Torres is off playing for Panama in World Cup qualifiers while Marshall has gotten a bit of a rest this week after a busy off-season that included a stint in January training camp with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
In the 3-1 win over New York, Svensson, who started the first two games of the season at right back in place of the injured Evans, shut down last year’s Golden Boot winner in Wright-Phillips. Though the New York striker managed to tally the only Red Bulls’ goal — on a second half header — he did it with Svensson draped all over him on one of the rare occasions he had any type of chance in close.
“He didn’t not look like a center back,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of Svensson. “I thought he was pretty good as a center back actually so I’ll have to discuss with him what his best position is.”
Schmetzer added: “The most impressive thing for me on the defensive side with Gustav was a couple of 1-v-1 duels where he was going up against faster players, he was able to win those duels. Then offensively I thought he saw some passes on long diagonals that really opened up the game for us so I was really happy with his performance.”
Svensson had said before the game that playing center back was similar to his more familiar role as a defensive-minded midfielder. After the game, he said he felt comfortable playing alongside Marshall and the pair communicated well.
So far, the Sounders agree.
Saturday’s exhibition game will be a good chance for the Sounders to test some of their depth all-around on the defensive side. Left back Joevin Jones is with the Trinidad & Tobago team this week while Oniel Fisher won’t play against Necaxa either as the Sounders rest his injured hamstring and hope to have him back next week against Atlanta.
That means defender Nouhou Tolo, back from duty with the Cameroon national side, should get a long look at left back on Saturday, while midfielders Jordy Delem and Henry Wingo could see action at the right back slot.
Shoreline product Wingo, who spent the past three seasons with the Washington Huskies, has logged 24 minutes of action in all three Sounders games to date. The biggest difference, he said, has been “just the speed of the game. You have to think so much quicker. You don’t have the time on the ball out here that you do in college, so you have to make your mind up faster. But it helps. It makes you a better and a smarter soccer player.”