TUKWILA, Wash. — After their roster selections were severely limited for the first few matches of the season, players returning to full health now may be providing the Seattle Sounders an abundance of choice when filling out the team sheet.
One notable area of competition, perhaps surprisingly, has been at the ostensible No. 10 spot. Whenever healthy and rested, Clint Dempsey started there last year and was presumed to resume that role this year. But when the lineup was announced for last Sunday’s game, it was Cristian Roldan getting the start with Dempsey on the bench.
Roldan responded with two assists, while Dempsey chipped in with an assist of his own after entering in the 60th minute.
“It makes it competitive,” said Roldan, calling Dempsey “Captain America.” “Any time you have a guy that is eager to be on the field, it’s going to make a better Clint Dempsey. It’s going to make a better Cristian Roldan. It’ll make a better Alex Roldan (who also started on Sunday). It goes along with the whole team. Any time you have competitive guys who are getting into that lineup, it’s going to make for a better team.
“Clint is as motivated as any one of us. Obviously, we play our roles a little bit differently, but all in all it’s the same mindset and the same goal and that’s to hopefully impact the team in a positive way and hopefully get some goals and assists.”
The push for internal competition was one of Schmetzer’s primary goals for the club even when he took over for Sigi Schmid in 2016. The roster acquisitions ahead of 2018 seemed to have a similar goal.
Waylon Francis was brought in to compete with a young Nouhou. Jordan McCrary came to compete with an experienced Kelvin Leerdam. Magnus Wolff Eikrem and to a lesser extent, Alex Roldan to fight for time against the attacking band.
Now that virtually everyone is more or less healthy (Francis is still considered a little ways away after a recent hamstring injury), Schmetzer must figure out which combination of players gives his squad the best chance to win.
“It’s a tough decision,” Roldan said. “That’s credit to Schmetzer, credit to the coaching staff. You never want to put a guy like Clint Dempsey on the bench. Obviously, there are certain situations where you may need to in terms of rest. When someone is healthy, it’s hard to keep Clint off the field, but (a similar situation has) happened with (Wolff) and my brother. Schmetzer has had to make decisions with that. It’ll continue to happen throughout the year because our team is so good in terms of depth. It’s a tough spot to be in for Schmetzer, but I think he’d rather have it this way.
“As a team, you have to pride yourself on having the best guys on your roster. If you told me that Wolff was going to be on the bench at the start of the season, to have a guy like (Kim Kee-hee), of his magnitude, on the bench. To have a guy like Clint (on the bench), with an unhealthy Jordan, Will (Bruin) scoring goals. It’s a tough decision to make. You’ve got to pride yourself on that as an organization because not a lot of teams have the luxury of having our bench and our whole team roster.”
With players capable of challenging for time at most positions on the roster, it is unclear if Seattle will have a constantly rotating lineup or certain players will languish on the bench as people win starting spots through their performance. It’s an integral part of the world of competitive athletics, but it gives the Sounders plenty of options when they go to choose a lineup.
“You just have to be honest, you have to talk to them, tell them what you’re thinking,” Schmetzer said on Wednesday. “They’re all competitive, they all want to play. That’s a good thing for the coaches to have. There’s a lot of tough choices for the coaching staff.”