Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer is taking his youth movement on the road.
The team’s preferred starting lineup is still short-handed due to international call-ups and injuries that brought three Tacoma Defiance players to first-team action, including teenagers Danny Leyva (16) and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez (17).
Each experienced an MLS first in a win against Vancouver last week. The trio, which also includes recently signed 24-year-old Justin Dhillon, will likely be called on again when the Sounders (8-4-5) play at New York FC (6-1-8) on Wednesday.
“All three of them were great,” Schmetzer said following the 1-0 win at CenturyLink Field on Saturday.
Dhillon, who signed a short-term contract on Friday, made his MLS debut at forward while Leyva started in the midfield — the third-youngest in league history to do so. Ocampo-Chavez was a substitute for Dhillon in the 90th minute, helping in the scramble that set up teammate Kelvin Leerdam’s winning goal in stoppage time.
“You saw the enthusiasm that Ocampo had at the end of the game,” Schmetzer continued. “You saw all the work that Justin did during the course of the game. And a lot of you guys don’t realize that Danny Leyva actually played 120 minutes (June 24) for our U-19 academy team. So for that kid to go 120 minutes in a high-caliber tournament and then come back on Saturday to make his first start after a regen (regeneration) day, a travel day and a couple of training days … I thought was tremendous.”
Teams typically would play their second units in midweek matches to counter three games in eight days, and the Sounders play at Columbus on Saturday. But Seattle is also calling on its deep reserves as it awaits the return of multiple players from Copa America and CONCACAF Gold Cup competition. Defenders Xavier Arreaga and Roman Torres joined the team in New York after Arreaga’s Ecuadorian national team was booted from the Copa America tournament in group play and Torres helped Panama reach the Gold Cup quarterfinals, where it lost to Jamaica on Sunday.
Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro is expected to rejoin the Sounders within the week after his country lost a Copa America quarterfinal match to Peru last week.
“(Schmetzer) gave me a lot of confidence putting me next to Gustav (Svensson),” Leyva said. “He just told me to recover balls and distribute, just to play my game as always and gave me all the confidence.”
Seattle will face a different challenge in New York. NYFC is on an MLS-best 11-game unbeaten streak and defeated Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia in its last outing.
The Sounders equal NYFC in total goals scored this season at 27 apiece, but New York has more shots on target (80) and has received major scoring contributions from five different players. The Sounders have received the bulk of their goals from three players, two of whom, Raul Ruidiaz (Peru) and Jordan Morris (U.S.), are currently playing with their national teams.
A win in New York would move Seattle into second place in Western Conference standings.
“On the road, you have to play very good defense and you must try to keep a clean sheet,” Schmetzer said. “There’s going to be roster changes because we have two matches in the span of four days. At some point you’re going to see the normal roster. But for these two particular games, we’re still going to have to mix-and-match a little bit.”