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Sounders Show They Can Weather Mauro Rosales' Absence

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Christian Sivebaek (Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.soundersfc.com/media-library/Images/Events/2012/03-March/120317-vs-Toronto/20120317-SOUNDERSFC-TORONTO-0652.aspx" target="new">SoundersFC.com</a>)
Christian Sivebaek (Photo courtesy of SoundersFC.com)

There's no way around it, losing Mauro Rosales for any length of time makes the Seattle Sounders a less dangerous offensive team. Over the long run, there's really no question the Sounders will score fewer goals if he's not on the field. The Sounders should clearly hope he returns from his latest injury as soon as possible.

There's also plenty of reason to think the Sounders should be patient.

The most obvious is that this is a long season. The Sounders could have as many as 40-odd games left to play and if Rosales' missing a couple more ensures that he'll be available for more, potentially more important, games later in the season, it's a price worth paying.

Based on Saturday's game, there's also plenty of reasons to suggest that Rosales' limited absence might not handicap the Sounders' offense as much as you might assume. Believe it or not, the vast majority of the Sounders' scoring opportunities on Saturday came without Rosales being directly involved. In fact, of the 13 scoring opportunities I counted, Rosales was a key factor in just three of them and none of those were on the Sounders' three goals.

"I think we’ll be OK," Sounders midfielder Brad Evans said. "Obviously, he’s an important part of our team, but so is everbody else. If we rely on one player, we’re going to find ourselves in a bad position throughout the season.

"It’s an extremely long season, even moreso this year. To say one player makes our team isn’t fair to the rest of us, so obviously we’ll fill that gap the best that we can. We’ll have to change the way we play also. We’ve been successful without starters in the past. For us, it’s just fill the gap and do what we do."

What the Sounders did on Saturday was use Rosales largely as a decoy. The focal points of the Sounders' offense that day were, unsurprisingly, David Estrada and Alvaro Fernandez.

Estrada was involved in a remarkable eight scoring chances for the Sounders and, of course, scored three goals himself. In addition to those goals, he came very close to setting up two others and getting on the end of three chances he failed to convert. The only one of those eight chances that Rosales was involved with was on the play in which the midfielder most likely suffered his knee sprain. On that play, Christian Sivebaek sent in a cross that Estrada was able to send back to Rosales, who would have probably scored his first goal of the season if not for Aaron Maund crashing into him.

What was really impressive about Estrada's performance was not only his knack for finding space in the defense when he's running, but he also showed some decent passing skills too. On his third goal, he helped set it up with a pass back to Fernandez and then immediately running to the vacated space when defender Richard Eckersley followed the ball.

Estrada's best pass of the night, though, went largely unappreciated. In the 81st minute, he put in a perfectly weighted pass to the far post that probably would have led to a goal. Unfortunately, Fredy Montero had pulled up and seemed to be looking for a pass at the top of the penalty area.

It wasn't all about Estrada, either. Fernandez, whose two assists doubled his MLS career total, was involved in four scoring chances, including all three goals. Fredy Montero was directly involved in four strong scoring chances, including a pair of wonderfully weighted balls over the top of the defense. Brad Evans had one of the nicest passes of the night, sending in Estrada 1-v-1 on a gorgeous throughball and helped set up a Rosales chance as well. Osvaldo Alonso and Sivebaek were also involved in couple quality chances.

Digging into Opta's chalkboards further illustrates just how strong of a match the Sounders' attacking core had. Estrada made just six unsuccessful pass attempts, completing 81 percent of his passes and only lost possession on a tackle 11 times. Montero and Fernandez each completed well over 70 percent of their passes. The central midfield duo of Evans and Alonso combined to complete 88 of 102 passes, lost possession just 20 times between them and made 18 recoveries and eight interceptions. By Opta's numbers, in fact, Rosales probably had the worst game of the six as he completed just 60 percent of his passes and lost possession a team-high 22 times.

None of this is meant to suggest that Rosales' absence is inconsequential, but it does refute the idea that the offense only really clicks when he's the one pushing the buttons.

"You don’t want to lose players anytime and certainly he’s a very important player to us because of the creative impulses he gives to the game," Schmid said on Tuesday at training. "We’re going to miss that part of it. It puts a little more of a burden on the other guys to do a little more."

Luckily, it looks like they might be up for the task.