TUKWILA – For the first time since the opening half of the Sounders FC season, healthy first-choice players outnumbered the unavailable at training Saturday.
And that included Victor Rodriguez, the heralded left winger who’s been out since July 6 with a hamstring injury.
“We are complete,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said after the session at Starfire Sports.
The return of players like Rodriguez is good timing as the Sounders head into the final five matches of the season, beginning with three in the upcoming eight days. Seattle hosts the New York Red Bulls on Sunday and FC Dallas on Wednesday at CenturyLink Field, then travels to play D.C. United.
The Red Bulls (12-12-5) are a tricky opponent because of the team’s playing style. New York will press Seattle and features one of the league’s top defenders in Aaron Long, who played for the Sounders 2 in 2014.
Seattle (13-9-7) spent Friday’s practice pinpointing strategy, Schmetzer leaning on assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda’s expertise in countering New York.
“Gonzo does a great job of coaching playing out from the back and our initial starting position on goal kicks and how we want to try to tactically have options,” Schmetzer said. “We need to give the players good tools to be successful against a team that does like to press and they press high and they’ll continue to press for the whole game. We’ve given them (Seattle) a couple of tools, then it’s up to the guys on the field to see if they can make plays.”
The Sounders, who were without 10 players due to international call-ups for their loss in Colorado last week, are in a must-win scenario. The club is third in MLS Western Conference standings but just three points separate Seattle and archrival Portland, which currently holds the seventh and final postseason berth.
“We talk about it a lot,” Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson said of tracking the standings with teammates. “We put ourselves in a little bit of a dangerous position because one loss and we can drop down a couple of positions. We hoped that we would get the first position but second position is what we’re aiming for and we’ve got to make sure that we take that place.”
Sounders defender Roman Torres trained with the Tacoma Defiance this week as he nears the end of his 10-game suspension for violating MLS’ substance-abuse policy.
Torres tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance, according to the league, and was notified of the suspension in August. He isn’t eligible to play for the Sounders until their Sept. 29 match in San Jose. But Torres can suit up for the Defiance beginning Sept. 23 in preparation to rejoin the first team.
Prior to the suspension, Schmetzer applauded Torres’ contributions in the starting lineup. Seattle was 3-1 with Torres on the back line to close out the month of July.
“I’ve been keeping tabs on what he’s been doing,” Schmetzer said. “As soon as that suspension is lifted, you’ll see a motivated Roman.”