TUKWILA, Wash. -- There was a welcome sight at Thursday’s training session: Osvaldo Alonso fully participating in drills and looking very likely to play his first minutes in almost exactly a month.
Alonso last played, coincidentally enough, in the Sounders’ most recent meeting with the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sept. 27. The Cascadia rivals will open their Western Conference semifinal on Sunday in Vancouver. Alonso left that match right before halftime with the Sounders already leading 1-0. They went on to win 3-0, vital points in allowing the Sounders to avoid the Knockout Round.
The Sounders went 2-1 in their other three most recent games without Alonso and have gone 8-2-2 this year in games Alonso has played less than a half. But most of those results haven’t come when so many of the Sounders’ other key players are out.
With Gustav Svensson, Victor Rodriguez, and Jordan Morris still unable to participate fully in training and with Clint Dempsey suspended, Alonso’s return is as important as ever.
With Alonso back, that would likely allow the Sounders to push Nicolas Lodeiro back into the attacking midfield band, most likely filling in for Dempsey as a de facto No. 10. Lodeiro has played well when deployed alongside Cristian Roldan in the defensive midfield, but all of his minutes there have come against teams not particularly well equipped to take advantage. The Whitecaps, as they showed in their 5-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday, can be a handful on both the counter and set pieces. Alonso should be able to help improve the Sounders’ defense of both.
“San Jose couldn’t really generate quality chances,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “That spells big trouble against the Whitecaps. You have to try to put them under some pressure — without giving away the counter — you can’t give away silly fouls. That will hurt you.”