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Sounders juggling international call-ups with late season schedule

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With two matches crammed on either side of the international break, Seattle may be without several marquee players.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA, Wash. — The Seattle Sounders are wheeling and dealing with various international confederations ahead of the upcoming FIFA international break (Oct. 8-16). Due to a rescheduled match against the Houston Dynamo, the Sounders have a match on the first day of the break and another the day after the break closes.

“We have conversations with our players first, then we have conversations with national teams depending on the circumstances,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said at training Tuesday. “Right now, we don’t know. There are a couple guys that aren’t on the final rosters yet. Once we get the final rosters, we’ll have the serious conversations. But we’re always trying to figure out, ‘hey, look, if it’s a meaningful game, Gustav [Svensson] is going to go to Sweden because those games mean something. If it’s a friendly, is there a little bit of flexibility?’ Those are the conversations. Is a guy featuring in the two games, or one of the two games? There’s lots of things we discuss.”

In fifth place in the Western Conference with four matches left to play, the Sounders need their best players to secure a playoff spot. While Cristian Roldan has not been called in for USMNT duty by interim boss Dave Sarachan for friendlies against Peru and Colombia, an otherwise full-slate of call-ups could, in theory, remove several of Seattle’s critical players for the match against Houston or leave them exhausted for a midweek fixture at Orlando City SC Oct. 17.

Most pressingly, striker Raúl Ruidíaz, who scored his sixth and seventh goal in his 12th appearance last week, has been called in by Peru manager Ricardo Gareca for the international break, along with the Whitecaps’ Yordy Reyna. Ruidiaz usually plays second or third fiddle in the Peruvian depth chart, while 33-year-old Jefferson Farfan gets the starting minutes.

“We’d like to keep Raúl but we understand that it’s an international fixture and the associations, they want their player as well,” Schmetzer said.

Clubs are required by FIFA rules to make their players available for international breaks, with harsh penalties if they try to skirt the rules. Players can reject international call-ups, but doing so damages their standing with their national team and fans from their home country.

For most players, the choice is an easy one.

“The national team is something you’ve always dreamed about doing,” Svensson said. “You always want to play for your country. Every time you get called up, that’s an honor. Every time you come back, it’s nice to come back to your friends and family here at Sounders and at Starfire.”

The Sounders now must play a complicated game of phone tag with as many as seven national confederations, trying to work out a schedule that allows them the best chance of on-field success. If certain players are not available, however, it may fall to Seattle’s depth players in key positions to help the team to the postseason.