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Depth signings important for Sounders if they hope for MLS Cup repeat

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Players like Neagle and Mallace were brought in to help replicate the depth that earned Seattle silverware last season.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA, Wash. — Now that the excitement of the MLS summer transfer window has ended, the Seattle Sounders are taking stock of their team in preparation for the final stretch of the 2017 season en route to the MLS Cup playoffs. After the earlier TAM acquisitions of Kelvin Leerdam and Victor Rodriguez, the Sounders snatched up Lamar Neagle and Calum Mallace in the final days of the window. Head coach Brian Schmetzer gave some clarification about his team’s status to the media on Friday ahead of the following day’s home match against Sporting KC.

Most importantly, Schmetzer cleared up two question marks ahead of the match by declaring Osvaldo Alonso and Rodriguez available for selection on Saturday. Alonso has been out for a few weeks now with an MCL sprain, but after training in full this week is available to play. Rodriguez, who had been clearing up visa and other paperwork this week, is also cleared to play. Schmetzer didn’t say whether or not Alonso would start, but he did say that Rodriguez would most likely come off the bench at some point. “Match-fit? No. Can he come on the field and give us some minutes? Yes, of course he could.”

As Mallace only arrived in Seattle on Friday, it’s unlikely that he’d be available to play so quickly. Schmetzer commented a bit on Mallace’s role with the team, echoing some of technical director Chris Henderson’s comments on Thursday. “He’s a steady kid, we’ve liked him ever since Marquette.”

Even more notably about Mallace’s arrival is that he was apparently brought in partially because Brad Evans, who hasn’t trained all week with the club, is dealing with an unidentified back injury at the moment. “Part of the reason for that is Brad’s having a couple issues with his lower back, so at the last minute we were trying to get enough bodies here just to make sure that in case something goes awry, we have enough cover.” Schmetzer said the club is still “figuring stuff out” in terms of Evans injury, but apparently it’s been bad enough to keep him off the training pitch.

It’s also worth a quick note that Schmetzer did acknowledge how the heat and awful smoke in the Seattle skies this week did affect his players when it was at its worst. At this point, now that the smoke has dissipated a bit and the players have acclimated, he’s not worried about it being a problem on Saturday.

What’s become fairly clear at this point is how important depth is to the Sounders, as the acquisitions they’ve made in this window in some ways make it seem like they are trying to build a team very similar to last year’s championship squad. “But if we’re looking at this year’s team versus last year’s team, last year we had Zach, Herc, Nelson, Andreas, Sturgis, we had some guys that had been around the block, right?” Schmetzer said. “This year, I think it’s shaping up the same.” He noted that the additions of Will Bruin and Harry Shipp early in the season were a good start in replacing the losses of some of those players, but the team seemed to have used this window to plug the holes that opened up in the first half of the season. “I think our depth is pretty good, it’s getting pretty good for sure.”

Ahead of the Sporting KC matchup, Schmetzer praised Peter Vermes for the coaching job he’s done this season, but stopped short of saying that KC’s much-hyped defense will be too much for his squad. Even if this is KC’s best defense ever, Schmetzer mused, this league tends to be fairly cyclical. “I know they played a lot of home games earlier in the year, maybe that kinda evens out as they play a few more games on the road.” Regardless of whether or not their defense is as good on the road, Schmetzer said he’s more concerned about the team as a whole, because of Vermes’ coaching and his fairly balanced squad.

One point that Schmetzer did make that is contrary to pretty much every preview out there is that there’s no reason to think KC will be worse as a result of their Open Cup match on Wednesday. “People are writing about how they played 120 and penalties and have to travel, that’s a load of bullcrap,” said Schmetzer. “They’re still going to come here and try and win the game.” Even if they are top of the Western Conference right now, Sporting KC will take this match as seriously as any other, according to Schmetzer. “There is no easy game in this league.”