You can tell a lot by looking into a player’s eyes. And Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer saw quite a bit on Friday.
“I’ve had lots of conversations with lots of tired players,” he said via phone from New Jersey, where the Sounders are staying in preparation for Saturday’s match against Philadelphia (7-3-2).
The Sounders (7-1-4) are on the final leg of playing three games in eight days. They defeated Orlando 2-1 on Wednesday night, then boarded a Thursday afternoon flight to the East Coast.
It’s nothing new in MLS. But the turnaround, injuries and opponent, a team that’s second in the Eastern Conference standings, did take a little more planning for Schmetzer and his coaching staff.
One of the biggest talks was with striker Raul Ruidiaz. He returned to the starting lineup last week in a win against Houston at CenturyLink Field after missing five games with a heel injury.
Ruidiaz played well against the Dynamo then shined against Orlando City, scoring the opening goal in the 19th minute. It was his fourth goal of the season.
“His last performance was impressive because he really hasn’t had a ton of training time, and he lasted 90 minutes,” Schmetzer said. “I think he’s on his way back. But do you start him and see how long he can go? What is his physical condition? Or does (Will) Bruin get the start and then Raul comes on and sub?”
Another challenge is how to fill in Jordan Morris’ slot. The forward was untouched when he suffered a strained hamstring in the 53rd minute against Orlando. He did not travel with the team and is expected to be out two weeks.
In addition to being healthy for Sounders matches, there’s concern for Morris’ health in regards to the U.S. Men’s National Team. The injury could remove Morris from consideration for the CONCACAF Gold Cup roster in June.
Handwalla Bwana replaced Morris on Wednesday, scoring the winning goal. But even Bwana’s stamina is being managed as he and teammate Nouhou fast in recognition of Ramadan.
“We have a game plan we’d like to use,” Schmetzer said of strategy against the Union. “I have to balance Handwalla’s attacking versus, say, Alex Roldan’s defending. … I still have some decisions to make based on the health of the guys who played Wednesday.”
The Sounders are winless against Philadelphia on the road, and the Union has won its past three matches, scoring 10 goals and only allowing two during the stretch. But the Sounders are second in the Western Conference and proving more resilient as the season progresses.
“It’s a very good squad,” Schmetzer said of Philadelphia. “We have to have confidence in the players on our squad. A player who’s tired versus a player who’s fresh and 100 percent, sometimes that freshness is what the team needs. Even if a player is supposedly the better player, a fresh player with fresh legs can provide the team with the spark that is necessary to be successful.”