Perhaps the real sign the Sounders’ formation change is working isn’t in the goals or the victories.

If the rivalry match Sunday against Portland is Nico Lodeiro’s first start of the season and the Sounders (2-0-1) extend their unbeaten streak to four games, the heart of the midfield is likely the indicator of success.

Lodeiro, who was named to MLS’s Best XI last year, missed the start for the Sounders’ opening three matches due to a left quad injury. The captain was replaced by Josh Atencio for the first two matches and Kelyn Rowe for Week 3.

Atencio is a teenager from Bellevue whose 180 minutes is the most of his budding MLS career. Rowe, a former star at Federal Way High, signed with the Sounders in January. The 10-year veteran’s start against the Los Angeles Galaxy was due to Atencio suffering an injury and was Rowe’s first start since October 2020 when he played for New England.

Two different players in different stages of their careers played the position that essentially is the engine of the Sounders’ new scheme and combined to help the club amass a plus-7 goal differential where the one conceded goal was on a set piece.

“It’s seriously one of the most important positions on the field,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “To be able to have some veteran players, young players contribute in that fashion is really positive to see. Hopefully it continues.”

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Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer consistently notes the ability to call on different players and still get favorable results will be a necessity this year because of the condensed schedule due to a late start and pending call-ups for international tournaments.

The upcoming week will be the first test. Seattle will play three matches in the span of eight days — two of the matches being against rivals in Portland and Los Angeles FC (May 16). The Sounders also face San Jose on the road Wednesday.

There likely will be a significant lineup change against the Quakes.

“Regardless of who plays, that person will obviously play differently than the other person, but the ideas are very similar and the thought processes are the same,” Roldan said. “That’s the beauty of this formation and the quality of players that we have on our team. It’s going to be exciting, I think.”

Injury update

Atencio is not expected to make the trip to Portland due to his right quad injury. Schmetzer also was hesitant to say the midfielder would be able to join the club for the game Wednesday.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s anywhere ready for San Jose,” Schmetzer said. “We’ll just take it as it goes.”

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The Sounders returned forward Fredy Montero (quad) and midfielder Jimmy Medranda (hamstring) to the lineup against L.A. Medranda made an appearance against the Galaxy, entering in the 79th minute and recording an assist to Raul Ruidiaz’s brace in second-half stoppage time.

Vaccinated section

The Sounders are expected to follow the Mariners, Storm and Tacoma Rainiers in forming a section for fully vaccinated ticket holders beginning with the May 23 match against Atlanta United at Lumen Field.

The Emerald City Supporters are working with the Sounders to have parts of Sections 121-123 designated for vaccinated people, The Seattle Times confirmed. The area, dubbed the Brougham End, is general admission but some of the tickets are distributed through ECS.

Emails were sent Friday to those who already have tickets in the sections to alert them of the change and notice was given to ECS members. Any increased seating is expected to be available to vaccinated people regardless of whether they’re an ECS member.  

Gov. Jay Inslee altered guidelines earlier this week regarding COVID-19 restrictions based on vaccination rates that cleared a path for vaccinated sections at sporting events.

The Sounders are expected to announce specific plans next week, including ways for ticket holders to prove they’re fully vaccinated. People are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot.

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ICYMI: Match changes

The dates of two Sounders matches were changed to accommodate broadcast scheduling.

Austin FC will now play the Sounders at Lumen Field on May 30 instead of May 29. The game was picked up by FS1 and will air nationally at 6:30 p.m.

The Sounders will meet the San Jose Earthquakes on July 31 at Lumen Field instead of Aug. 1. The match is airing locally on JOEtv and will be available to stream on Prime Video at 2 p.m.

Both matches still will have radio broadcasts on 950 KJR AM (English) and El Rey 1360 AM (Spanish).