Absences of all sorts have hit the Seattle Sounders hard this year. Among the ideal XI from the start of the season, only Lamar Neagle and Tyrone Mears have played in as many as 24 of the Sounders' 25 matches. Even now, with the Sounders as healthy as they've been in a couple months, they are still missing three likely starters.
Clearly, something has gone horribly wrong. Or has it?
Ravi Ramineni is part of the Sounders' sports science department. The former Microsoft employee was hired three years ago by Sounders Sports Science and Performance Manager Dave Tenney to help make sense of all the training data the team collects. And according to Ramineni in an interview with GeekWire.com, the data suggests the Sounders aren't much worse off than they were last year, which many of us hailed as remarkably healthy.
"People won’t believe it, but we’re still roughly at the same pace of last year as far as total number missed days due to injury issues. Everything happened in a small time frame this season."
Ramineni does acknowledge that the injury situation has been far from ideal, even throwing out the potential noise of the injuries being cluttered together:
"We’ve definitely had some issues this year and we are investigating those, doing some deep dives. Anytime something new pops up, you want to be able to prevent getting bitten by the same thing again. What we are aiming for is where we have an early warning system. I don’t want to say predicting injuries, but an early warning system that flags when there might be something going on that we need to look into. We have enough data now that we can do this and we’ve been adding contextual information to the data as we go. That’s where we want to go and we are making progress, but there is always room for improvement."
Somewhat exacerbating the situation this year is who has been getting hurt, namely the Designated Players. Alonso only missed one regular season game last year and has already missed 10 this year. Obafemi Martins has missed 13 games this year after only missing three in 2014. Clint Dempsey will likely miss his 13th game of the year on Saturday when he only missed eight in a World Cup year. But Dempsey's situation also shines light on something that is further muddling the injury picture: Three of the games he has missed this year were for suspension and five more were due to national team callups.
Stefan Frei also missed three games, but that was more of a freak injury than anything preventable. Similarly, Marco Pappa has missed nine games, but four were for his stint in rehab and the other five were for national-team duty.
So even if Ramineni is correct -- and it's almost impossible to know how he's measuring missed time or who counts -- it's not hard to understand why the perception is that the list of missing players on any given week has gotten a bit out of control.
Either way, it's at least encouraging to see the Sounders paying this much attention to the issue, even if their hands are somewhat tied in terms of preventing this kind of thing.