TUKWILA — It’s not an easy position to be in.
Midfielder Emanuel Cecchini has been putting in effort in Sounders training since his arrival in August in hopes of impressing and maneuvering his way to the lineup on game day. Most weeks, his performance turns out to simply be work that makes the team’s starters better.
As Seattle turns its focus to preparing for its MLS playoff opener against FC Dallas on Oct. 19, Cecchini could remain in a similar situation, on the sideline.
The second-seeded Sounders spent the past week doing individual work mixed with exercises by position because they’re missing eight players due to call-ups for the FIFA international break. Seattle won’t work on specific tactics to prepare for seventh-seeded Dallas until the players trickle back Tuesday and Wednesday.
So, Cecchini was an obvious highlight over the past week with the thinned roster.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said earlier this month. “It’s just a question of how does he fit in? Who was here already? It’s nothing bad with Ema.”
The Sounders signed Cecchini (pronounced seh-chee-nee) alongside forward Luis Silva at the close of the FIFA secondary transfer window Aug. 7. Cecchini is earning approximately $789,000 this year, on loan through the 2020 MLS season from the Spanish Malaga CF’s second-tier team.
The amount puts Cecchini behind only designated players Nico Lodeiro ($2.5 million) and Raul Ruidiaz ($2 million) and international player Victor Rodriguez ($1.1 million) on the Sounders’ pay scale, according to the MLS Players Association.
His salary would indicate Cecchini should be on the field contributing. Instead, the 22-year-old Argentine has appeared in four games with one start, totaling 155 minutes and two shots on goal.
Silva — a six-year MLS veteran — has played 197 minutes in five games with two starts and four shots on target.
The Sounders did not make Cecchini available to comment for this story, but he told Spanish media outlets he’s working hard to get more playing time and is enjoying learning from teammates.
Silva, who is making the league minimum, saw Ruidiaz ahead of him when he joined the Sounders: “I knew I was coming to a good team with a great forward. It’s just about being patient and waiting for your time. I’ve got in (a game) and did OK. Obviously I want to play more, as a professional player you want to keep playing and get as many minutes as you can. But you’ve got to understand the situation and how the team is doing.
“Right now, we’re doing well. If I was the coach, I would keep the same group.”
Forward Will Bruin’s season-ending knee injury in June prompted the Sounders to find depth up top. Rodriguez’s hamstring and oblique injury has forced Schmetzer to tinker with his lineup at midfield. And missing 10 players due to international call-ups for a rescheduled match in Colorado on Sept. 7 completely altered the Sounders lineup.
Cecchini and Silva started the Colorado match, Seattle ultimately losing 2-0. Cecchini has played eight minutes since that game.
“We’ve signed, in the past, players in the summer and they’ve had an impact,” said Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders general manager and president of soccer, referring to Lodeiro and defender Roman Torres.
“Cecchini is different in now our season is a month shorter,” Lagerwey said. “We were aware of some of these challenges going in, but it’s also asking a lot. … To take a young guy, in a new country, with a new language and say you’ve got (eight) games — that’s objectively tough.”
The Sounders are hopeful Cecchini continues to have a positive experience and can help in the future. There’s a chance it could come during the playoff run — if the Sounders get past Dallas, the turnaround for the Western Conference semifinals is four or five days.
“Our impression of Cecchini hasn’t changed,” Lagerwey said. “We have a deep team, and we think that’s how you win a title. You need everybody.”