Assuming all goes according to plan, the Seattle Sounders should be closer to full-strength than at any time in the past month when they head to Portland to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps on Tuesday. It’s not yet known how many minutes any of them will be available for, but Brian Schmetzer should at least have the option of using Raúl Ruidíaz, Gustav Svensson and Xavier Arreaga.
Here’s some storylines to keep an eye on:
Use those fresh legs
It’s understandable, but the congested nature of the post-MLS is Back schedule appears to be finally taking its toll. It’s hard to say if that’s physical or mental fatigue, but at least some reinforcements are now here. Arreaga and Svensson both seem like reasonably good bets to start as they’ve been back the longest and were still able to train individually even while they were quarantining. The fresh legs and a little extra rest will hopefully be enough to give the Sounders a much-needed boost.
Ease Raul back in
Tempting as it may be to just let Ruidíaz rip, my hope is that Brian Schmetzer errs a bit on the conservative side. Ruidíaz has spent most of the past three weeks cooped up inside and has only trained in full for part of that time. There’s simply no reason to throw him back onto the field and risk injury. If Schmetzer can get 20 minutes out of Ruidíaz, that seems fine and there’s every reason to believe the Sounders can manage a result either way.
Get the swagger back
The degree to which the Sounders have struggled without Ruidíaz has been overstated a bit. The reality is that the Sounders have now played five games this year without the Peruvian striker, going 2-1-2 with seven goals scored. The reason that feels like “struggling” is more about how good they’d been with Ruidíaz, going 6-2-1 with 25 goals scored in his last nine starts. Even if Ruidíaz doesn’t play, the Whitecaps are still a team against whom the Sounders match up well.
It should be noted, however, that the Whitecaps have quietly been playing pretty decent soccer over the past couple weeks. Since losing four straight that left them 4-11-0 and seemingly headed for another postseason-less season, the Whitecaps have won 3 of 4 to climb into the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference. In fact, if the playoffs were to start today, they’ve have a date with the Sounders. I’d hesitate to say the Whitecaps have done much to systematically improve at this point, but they’ve at least stopped bleeding goals at the historic rate they were heading toward.
Qualify for the playoffs
Not that qualifying for the playoffs is seriously in doubt or anything like the end goal of the season, but a Sounders win would
unofficially put them into the postseason for the 12th straight year (it’s unofficial because MLS hasn’t yet decided to do about the Rapids schedule). That would extend their MLS-record streak, which they set last year, and put them behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins (14 years) among professional teams in North America with active streaks. What’s even more remarkable than the longevity is that the Sounders have never finished below fourth in the Western Conference, something they’d be all but assured of doing again with a win. Just as importantly, a win would also push them back into the Western Conference lead and continue their pursuit of the top seed. That’s something they’ve only managed to grab once before in their MLS history (2014).