With just under a week left before the 2017 MLS season kicks off, the Seattle Sounders are faced with a selection dilemma that could put a wrench in Brian Schmetzer’s plans to defend the club’s first MLS Cup. The Sounders told the Seattle Times on Monday that Brad Evans would be out for 5-7 weeks with a calf injury, which means that the team will be without its presumed first choice at right back.
Schmetzer said on Tuesday, “It’s a team game, we have plenty of good players. We’ll miss him, but we’ll make do.” It’s assumed that Oniel Fisher was Evans’ backup, but he didn’t play in any of the Sounders’ preseason matches and has been going through concussion protocol. Schmetzer said Fisher “should be ready” to play against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.
But since he hasn’t played in any matches since returning from the Jamaica national team, Fisher’s fitness is also in question even if he’s healthy enough to play. It appears that Schmetzer sees new signing Gustav Svensson as his third choice at right back, as the Swede played the full 90 minutes at the position against the Crew. Schmetzer said that, if Fisher is healthy, “either one” could start against the Dynamo.
Svensson said he played as a right-sided center back at his last club, Guangzhou in China, when they played a 3-5-2. He said he sees some similarities between that position and right back, which he hasn’t properly played in “a couple of years.” Schmetzer praised Svensson’s willingness to play anywhere for the team, “what I like is that he’s a team guy, and he will sacrifice parts of his game to help the team, and that’s the kind of player you want as a coach.” The player echoed that sentiment, saying even though he didn’t plan on such a dramatic position switch so early in his Sounders career, he didn’t hesitate when asked to do so.
As an older player that rarely plays in such positions, Svensson looked just fine at right back against the Crew—though he certainly brings a different skill set to the role than Evans or Fisher. Svensson doesn’t have the speed of Evans, not to mention Fisher, so he’s unlikely to be an attack-heavy option on that side of the pitch. What he does have is a strong work rate and an engine constructed by years of playing in central midfield. Svensson said “I’m not the typical fast full back maybe, but I can run for days.”
Another question mark at the right back position has been rookie Homegrown Player signing Henry Wingo, who was one of the bright spots of preseason for Seattle. When the Sounders first signed Wingo during the offseason, general manager Garth Lagerwey said that he saw the youngster as a potential right back; the player himself, though, considers right winger to be his best position.
Even though we can expect Wingo to get some MLS playing time as early as Saturday, it probably won’t come at right back. Schmetzer hasn’t yet played Wingo in that spot, choosing instead to play him in the attack in each of his preseason appearances. The Sounders coach said that “right now, he’s a really talented young player who could probably play multiple positions. I haven’t decided which one he’s going to do.” He said that Wingo is expected to play sooner rather than later, though he’s probably not going to be starting in a key role immediately. “He’s going to play, so that’s a little bit of a faster route, maybe. Obviously Jordy last year could have been the top example of someone jumping in right away. Henry’s not quite at that level, but there are certainly opportunities for him to play.”
Another player worth noting that has the potential to play at right back is Aaron Kovar, who hasn’t played a minute for the Sounders since suffering a collarbone injury last season. He was seen briefly in a couple sessions during preseason, but hasn’t trained since. Schmetzer said that Kovar is suffering from “groin area issue,” and that he would definitely not be available this weekend.
In response to Sounder at Heart’s probing questions about his first choice at right back, Schmetzer joked that one player was definitely not going to be playing the position: Will Bruin.