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Sounders again look to “next man up” mentality against DC United

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Despite a depleted roster to choose from, Sounders are as confident as ever after Gold Cup break

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA, Wash. — As the Seattle Sounders round the corner of their Gold Cup break, they’ve been back in training the last couple days to prepare for their next MLS match — at home against DC United next Wednesday. While some teams might desire a break to heal up or compose themselves, the Sounders begrudged it a little for halting the momentum they built upon their 3-1 away win to the Colorado Rapids. Forward Will Bruin said that he personally takes the good along with the bad on a break like this. “When things are going well and you get the break off, it’s kind of bittersweet.”

For players like Bruin, who scored in that match in Colorado on the back of three straight starts, the rest is nice — but he’d rather be out there scoring more goals. “When you’re playing well and performing, getting results, you want to keep going. But that’s just the way the schedule went.” His teammate, winger Aaron Kovar, was a little more single-minded about the respite this past week: “we’re at that halfway point, it’s always good to get that rest and get your mind right.” This makes sense for a player like Kovar, who only recently got back into the team after a very lengthy injury layoff. Now that he’s ready to go and likely to start in the next game or two, it was good for him to get his mind right.

Head coach Brian Schmetzer said the team is ready to get back in the thick of MLS action, because training alone is making them a bit stir-crazy. “Too much training is never good for any soccer player. Because they all like to play. Practice is practice. They still have good days in training, but the game is the game.” But with so many players out ahead of at least the D.C. United match, it’s good for the Sounders to have some extra time to get ready. Schmetzer said the team is pleased to have a few players with some versatile experience, like Gustav Svensson, Brad Evans, and Aaron Kovar. “It helps when you have players that have been around and you know their strengths and weaknesses.”

Not only will the Sounders likely be without their Gold Cup stars (Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan, Jordy Delem, Oniel Fisher and potentially Clint Dempsey), they’ll also be without Osvaldo Alonso and Chad Marshall. While the injuries the latter two picked up against Colorado aren’t too serious, neither will almost certainly not feature against DC. Marshall only did fitness training this week, and Alonso didn’t train outside at all. Schmetzer gave his standard answer for both players’ progress: “he’s a tough kid. Once he’s ready, he’ll play.”

But despite the headache of replacing those players and slotting players into potentially unfamiliar roles, Schmetzer said he already has a pretty good idea of who will play next Wednesday. He intimated that Kovar will likely feature, but he was quick to temper expectations for new signing Kelvin Leerdam. “So for the first couple games, we don’t want to put him at injury risk and we let him get to know our league and get comfortable with his new teammates.”

He plans on telling Leerdam to play his game first, and adapt to MLS and the Sounders as time goes on. He doesn’t want the player to feel like he has to “carry the world on his shoulders.” But the Sounders coach had high praise for his new right back, saying that he was the right type of player to even out the right side to match the speed at fullback that Joevin Jones provides. “He’s a good complement to what we try to do on the left side.”

Kovar, who said that right now he thinks his best position is on the right wing, said that he and Leerdam have already started to develop some chemistry on the Sounders’ right flank. “I think we have a good understanding. It helps that he’s a fast righty and I can come inside and give some different dimensions to [the position].” He said it helps that Leerdam speaks English and is a vocal teammate, something he experienced plenty of in Friday’s 30-minute intra-squad scrimmage.

So even though fans are probably eager to see Leerdam in action and pass their own judgment as soon as possible, that may not happen on Wednesday. Schmetzer noted that the paperwork hasn’t necessarily cleared completely either, so it’s possible that we see Brad Evans back in his favored position against DC.

Bruin, who is likely to start his 4th straight match against United, was positive (as usual) about the necessary rotation in the starting XI. “I think the team has the mentality of next man up, and I think the Colorado game was the perfect example. We were missing some guys, had some injuries, but some guys came in and kept the standard very high and we kept the result.” He thinks that this vibe the team and staff have cultivated gives players confidence in their teammates, because they’ve seen those players step up in games and in training. He adds that, if younger players have to come in and fill those gaps, he’s happy to take as much of the burden off of them as he can.

Despite the turnover going on with the squad right now, it’s apparent that things are pretty upbeat. The team is ready to go, and they’re focused much more on the players there than the players that are unavailable. Schmetzer is hesitant to compare the hardships the team has faced this year with those of last year, but for him, the comparisons end there. “There’s a lot of season left, we can write a story with this group of players. They’re all motivated to do that.”