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Sounders must prepare for looming 'winter' this summer

Injuries, suspension and international absence threaten to derail this promising season.

Don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid.
Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

Missing all three Designated Players, playing without five potential starters, losing two more in the middle of the game to various injuries and falling to one of the worst teams in the league in home. Saturday's 2-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes was nothing short of a depressing way to end one of the weirdest weeks in the Seattle Sounders' long history. But the truly frustrating part of it is that it's not over, not by a long shot.

Not to pile on with too much depression, but it sure looks like winter is coming, it just so happens to be coming during the summer months:

  • Clint Dempsey won't be back until at least July 3 and it could be even longer, depending how big of a meanie Jurgen Klinsmann chooses to be. The Gold Cup doesn't start until July 7, but the United States national team has a warmup game against Guatemala on July 3. If Klinsmann decides to bring Dempsey in for the whole tournament, the Sounders could be without him until Aug. 1. He'd have missed seven consecutive match at that point, or basically the same number he'd have missed if MLS had decided to throw the book at Dempsey for his Open Cup tirade. (UPDATE: Dempsey was named to the initial 23-man roster, meaning he'll likely miss the maximum seven games.)
  • Obafemi Martins may not have needed surgery to repair his adductor, but the Sounders are probably optimistic when they say he'll be out 3-6 weeks. Sigi Schmid likened Martins' injury to the ones suffered by Dylan Remick and Djimi Traore last year. Both of them missed more like 8-10 weeks. Of course, Martins is closer to his peak than either player and he seems motivated as ever, but it's definitely better to plan for an immediate future without the scoring machine.
  • Marco Pappa playing all 90 minutes, but didn't quite seem himself especially in the second half. Apparently, there was a good reason: He was feeling sick and if not for the Sounders' other absences, may well have not played at all. It's probably safe to assume he'll be in better shape in the near future, but international duty is going to take him away from the Sounders at the worst possible time. Pappa is probably Guatemala's most important player and you can rest assured he'll leave the Sounders sometime after June 28 and be gone until his team is eliminated from the Gold Cup. Guatemala is in a group with Mexico, Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago. There's a pretty good chance they will be playing until the knockout stages and could well be busy until July 22.
  • Osvaldo Alonso is still battling some sort of leg injury and will at least miss Wednesday's game against the Philadelphia Union. We can only hope he returns sooner than later. The Sounders are 2-3-1 without Alonso and 7-2-1 with him this year.
  • Brad Evans has emerged as one of the top center backs in MLS just in time to suffer some kind of groin injury. It seems reasonable to assume he won't make the trip to Philadelphia, but we can only hope he's back in time for the Portland Timbers match on June 28. (UPDATE: Evans was also named to the full 23-man roster for the Gold Cup, that means he'll likely miss at least two additional Sounders games and as many as four more, depending how long he remains with the USMNT.)
  • Andy Rose has quietly put together a strong season, accumulating three assists and being a bit hard done not to have scored at least a couple goals. He's also one of just four Sounders to have appeared in all 16 matches, including 11 starts. Rose has historically healed quickly, but the Sounders are going to need him badly this summer.

None of this is to suggest the Sounders are literally doomed and there is some good news in that Chad Barrett is apparently close to fully back in training and Gonzalo Pineda has advanced to the point that he was on the bench. Both may return as soon as Wednesday.

But even with those two back, this is a depleted squad and for all the depth the Sounders have shown this year, the reality is that they've gone 0-2-1 and haven't scored a goal in the three matches in which all three Designated Players were out. It's true that the Sounders have managed to create numerous scoring chances in all three games -- and by all rights probably should have won the Sporting Kansas City match -- but it's hardly going out on a limb to say that they are a diminished side without them.

With those three, there aren't many teams that can compete with the Sounders' mixture of offensive dynamism, ability to hold the ball and defensive soundness. Without them? Well, we don't really know yet. There's plenty of other talented players on this team. Cristian Roldan, Aaron Kovar, Darwin Jones and Victor Mansaray all seem at least capable of stepping up in expanded roles. Thomas has at least shown some potential to be pick up some of the slack. At times, Lamar Neagle has excelled when he's been asked to shoulder a larger offensive load. The defense shows no signs of buckling, a couple shaky moments against the Earthquakes aside.

What the Sounders can't afford to do -- and so far show no sign of doing -- is to start feeling sorry for themselves. Yes, they've been dealt some poor cards and all of this comes at an inopportune time. But the Sounders still lead the Supporters' Shield race, still have a game in hand on much of their competition, still have scored more and allowed fewer goals than any other team and still have plenty of reasons to think this can be a great season. Best of all, there's no army of White Walkers looming on the other side of the wall, merely a bunch of MLS teams that have plenty of problems of their own.

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