While there are laments about the huge gap between the Sounders’ playoff matches, there could be one big silver lining for the team. If everyone returns from international duty injury-free, the Sounders might have their healthiest squad in weeks. Brad Evans trained in full again on Friday, and seems to have finally shaken the plethora of little injuries that have plagued him for awhile now. The biggest news, however, is that head coach Brian Schmetzer is feeling pretty positive about Andreas Ivanschitz, who has been out with a knee injury suffered in the opening minutes against Houston back in October.
Schmetzer said on Friday that Ivanschitz “looked really good today,” noting the midfielder is moving normally and participating in a significant portion of training. His final hurdle to full participation is to start doing ball work with the inside of his right foot; once he can make those movements naturally, he should be able to fully train. Whether or not he’ll be ready for the first leg of the conference finals on November 22 is hard to say, but Schmetzer seemed very optimistic, reiterating that Ivanschitz is “looking really good, [he] looked sharp today.”
Ivanschitz had a pretty solid first half of the season, as he was very important to the cross-heavy strategy that Sigi Schmid implemented with the Sounders. He crossed more than just about any other player in MLS during that time, however he wasn’t too high on the assist charts. After Schmetzer took over, Ivanschitz looked like a different player. Instead of punting balls over the top and endlessly crossing to nobody, Ivanschitz slotted perfectly into the outside of the 4-2-3-1 that the team has mostly used in the last few months. In particular, Schmetzer highlighted that the elements of creativity that Ivanschitz brings to the team help take some of the playmaking weight, and thus attention, off of Nicolas Lodeiro.
While the team has missed Ivanschitz’s creativity in open play for the last month, Schmetzer also stressed how much the team needs his abilities on set pieces. With both Ivanschitz and Lodeiro on the field, the Sounders have two weapons that can deliver excellent corners and regularly threaten goal with direct free kicks. Schmetzer noted that having the two players switch around on set pieces has helped keep opposing teams on their toes. Getting Ivanschitz, who has three goals and seven assists in 2016 so far, back for Colorado “would be a massive help,” according to Schmetzer.