The Sounders FC are desperate for players but when it came to Thursday’s match against Austin FC, coach Brian Schmetzer was clear about his starting lineup.
“The young players we put on the field earned a chance to play,” said Schmetzer of the five teenagers who brought the average age down to 22 years — the second-youngest lineup in MLS history.
“They worked hard,” Schmetzer continued of midfielders Josh Atencio (19), Danny Leyva (18), Ethan Dobbelaere (18), Reed Baker-Whiting (16) and Obed Vargas (15). “They do what we ask in practice. They understand what we want, the objectives. For us, as coaches, there wasn’t a ton of tactics. We tried to simplify it. … Kudos to the entire group. It was a very massive team performance.”
After defeating the expansion side 1-0, the question is whether the group also earned a second go-round. The league-leading Sounders (8-1-5) host Sporting Kansas City (8-3-3) on Sunday at Lumen Field.
It’s a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference. But the clubs haven’t played each other since August 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. MLS regionalized matches in its return to play in 2020, Seattle not traveling farther than Colorado and not meeting SKC in the Rave Green’s run to the MLS Cup title match.
The only player of Seattle’s 10 missing veterans expected to be available for selection is center back Xavier Arreaga. He served a one-game suspension Thursday for yellow-card accumulation.
Sounders brothers Cristian and Alex Roldan are with their national teams competing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Alex started for El Salvador in Saturday’s quarterfinal loss against Qatar in Glendale, Arizona, and isn’t expected to return in time to play for Seattle.
Cristian and the U.S. men’s national team have a quarterfinal match Sunday against Jamaica.
Sounders defenders Shane O’Neill (hip flexor) and Nouhou (adductor) were the closest to returning but haven’t participated in full training. It’s unlikely they’ll start against SKC.
The visitors are without midfielder Gianluca Busio (USMNT) and forward Alan Pulido (Mexico). But SKC forward Daniel Salloi is available for selection and hyped after a Wednesday draw with San Jose.
Salloi scored his eighth goal of the season in the match. The Hungarian is behind Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz (11) and Los Angeles Galaxy forward Chicharito (10) in the Golden Boot race.
“It was a very frustrating game,” Salloi said during a postgame interview after the draw that featured 35 fouls. “It’s a weird week overall. But we can’t have any excuses. We should have got (the win) at home.
“I’m not a fan of San Jose. They’re playing very dirty football, and I don’t think they deserve points ever. But that’s how it is. We have to go to Seattle and get points on the road. It’s going to be a very tough weekend.”
The Sounders will have an emotional motivation to the match. The club will honor the original Mr. Sounder, Jimmy Gabriel. The defender died this month at the age of 80.
A patch with the initials JG will be placed on the Sounders’ jerseys. Seattle’s players are expected to wear black armbands with the NASL Sounders logo, and there will be a moment of silence before the opening kickoff.
Gabriel was part of the Sounders’ inaugural roster in 1974. He also served as the Sounders coach from 1977-79 and assistant from 1974-76, scoring the club’s first goal in the Kingdome in 1976.
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