Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid and his staff will have plenty to ponder as he and his squad fly back from Mexico.
Although the season is barely underway, Schmid’s traditionally smooth player juggling skills are already in demand and being challenged. Luckily, he has Saturday off after MLS granted a reprieve between the two legs to those sides involved in CONCACAF Cup.
However after that, he has the second leg next Tuesday and a local derby with Portland the following Saturday. By Saturday night, that will equate to four matches in 14 days.
In the two matches so far, he has relied heavily on a coterie of experienced players with Brad Evans, Eddie Johnson, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Mike Gspurning playing all three hours, and Mario Martinez just a minute short.
Leo Gonzalez has 174 of those minutes and Zach Scott has played all but nine. (see table below)
It seems inconceivable that all six outfielders will be asked to play both games next week. In addition Mauro Rosales started both and already looked a little jaded by the time Schmid rescued him 22 minutes from time.
Some of the answers are fairly straightforward.
Marc Burch is a ready made replacement for Gonzalez at left back, so there is little cause for concern there. However, Djimi Traore will need company at centre half. Scott and Hurtado could share that role with a game each, but that would mean Schmid had played three different centre half pairings in his first four matches. It seems to be the best of the options though.
That also assumes that the ever flexible Scott is not needed at right back where DeAndre Yedlin made a superb debut on Saturday. Given his youth, he could be asked to go twice with much depending on the fitness of Adam Johansson, the first choice right back. Yedlin only played nine minutes in Mexico.
The upside is that two other key players Osvaldo Alonso and Traore both have only ninety under their belts.
The biggest concern has to be lone striker Eddie Johnson who has ploughed through all 180 minutes without a goal. Sounders’ need to hurriedly find an alternative option is becoming evident. Once the question was ‘who will partner Johnson up front?‘ Soon it will be who can replace him if he needs rested or more troublingly still, is injured?
Sounders FC Minutes Played by Player
|Jhon Kennedy Hurtado||180|
Schmid must now ask these questions about his staff:
1) Does he prioritise one game over another?
2) Who does he rest and who replaces him?
One obvious answer was signaled last night when Lamar Neagle replaced Rosales, although Steve Zakuani with just 69 minutes should be fresh enough to start on Tuesday and be re-assessed for Saturday.
Yedlin with only nine brief minutes on Tuesday could be asked to start against Tigres but is that a step too far too quick in quality for the youngster?
Brad Evans will probably be asked to play Tuesday because he is so vital to the team’s internal coordination but don’t be surprised to see Caskey shoehorned into a role that partly covers Evans’ usual obligations on Saturday.
Given the dearth of forward options, Sammy Ochoa may find himself presented with yet another opportunity to impress a doubting Seattle public but keep an eye on the return to full fitness of David Estrada. Tuesday may be too soon for him but Saturday 16th? Then again, he did travel to Mexico so Tuesday cannot be ruled out.
One feels Schmid will want to see the youngster returned to MLS action sooner rather than later. He could still be the answer to many problems and Sounders may not feel that they want to splash out money on a DP forward if Estrada is going to force him out the team. Memories of Alex Caskey keeping Alvaro Fernandez on the bench are still fresh and the cost of paying off Christian Tiffert even fresher.
All these fitness questions do not even begin to assess what players and styles would be best to combat the very differing threats posed by Tigres and Portland. That may not be worth considering. It is hard to assess Portland given the number of new players, a new coach and a new style. Sounders will watch them on Saturday against Montreal and need to acquire a fast education from it.
Whisper it quietly but many fans are saying that, such is the lure of CONCACAF glory, that the coach should throw his every resource at flooring Tigres and blood some enthusiastic but inexperienced players in the Cascadia derby. The occasion seems made for Andy Rose, with his experience of Bristol derbies, indeed and almost certainly David Estrada if available.
Beyond that, fans can look to those players who excelled in the Desert Diamond Cup Final win over Real Salt Lake.
Eriq Zavaleta and Dylan Remick impressed as defenders as did two trialists at forward Phillip Lund and Travis Bowen. Zavaleta and Remick made the bench against Montreal and surely can’t be far away from consideration.
After all, Yedlin did just fine on his debut.
Then of course there’s Shalrie Joseph. Could he perhaps be a potential centre half? His availability would certainly increase Schmid’s options in a number of other areas, notably Brad Evans field of expertise.
As with Johansson, Schmid can only wait for medical reports, observe in training and hope for the best.
Then make some tough decisions.
Here are the full line ups used by Sounders FC so far:
v Montreal, March 2
Seattle Sounders FC – Michael Gspurning, DeAndre Yedlin, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Zach Scott, Leo Gonzalez (Servando Carrasco 84), Mario Martinez, Brad Evans, Andy Rose (Alex Caskey 62), Steve Zakuani (Sammy Ochoa 69), Mauro Rosales, Eddie Johnson.
Substitutes Not Used: Marcus Hahnemann, Dylan Remick, Djimi Traore, Eriq Zavaleta.
v Tigres, March 6
Seattle Sounders FC - Michael Gspurning, Zach Scott (DeAndre Yedlin 81), Djimi Traore, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez, Alex Caskey, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Mario Martinez (Marc Burch 89), Mauro Rosales (Lamar Neagle 68), Eddie Johnson.
Substitutes Not Used: Marcus Hahnemann, Servando Carrasco, Andy Rose, Sammy Ochoa.
v Real Salt Lake, February 23
Seattle Sounders FC (4-4-2) – Marcus Hahnemann; Dylan Remick, Eriq Zavaleta, Ashani Fairclough**, Marc Burch; Alex Caskey (Jennings Rex*, 86’), Andy Rose, Servando Carrasco, Lamar Neagle (Kevin Durr, 90+); Sammy Ochoa (Phillip Lund**, 66’), David Estrada (Travis Bowen**, 66’)
* Unsigned Draft Pick; ** Trialist