TUKWILA, Wash. — An unseasonably sunny and mild day met the Seattle Sounders as they returned to training Wednesday at Starfire. The only thing missing was most of the first-team players.
International absences meant that five of the Sounders regulars were scattered around the globe, as they prepare for the latest round of World Cup Qualifying. Injuries and recuperation from Sunday’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps saw most of those left behind inside, and thus unable to take in the rare November sun. Such was the state of the available trainees that coach Brian Schmetzer dipped into the Tacoma Defiance roster to help make up the numbers.
“Perfect opportunity for some of those players to show the first team staff what they can do,” Schmetzer said. “It helps us out, and then it might help them out.”
Schmetzer expects to have the healthy players from Tacoma Defiance with the first team at least through the weekend, if not longer.
“This is almost like an audition for the next preseason,” he said.
That figures to be a familiar theme over the next week, as the Sounders attempt to get their wounded players fully back by the time the international break ends. Fortunately, there are a few things working in the Sounders’ favor, not the least of which is the 16-day break between their last match and the playoff opener against Real Salt Lake on Nov. 23.
The long break on each side of the international window means that the injured Sounders will have plenty of time to recover, and those on international duty will have around four or five days of rest and training upon their return. It’s no surprise that Schmetzer has targeted a specific date to begin final preparations, but that is obviously subject in part to the whims of the travel gods.
“The normal four-day lead-in to a game, if my math is correct is the 19th,” Schmetzer said. “Some of the internationals are going to fly back at different times during that period. We have the flights, but you never know. There’s a ton flight delays and if they don’t show up on the 19th, they’ll be here on the 20th.
“Small little nuances, but we’d like to get everybody together on the 19th.”
On that date, Schmetzer expects he’ll be at as close to full strength as he’s been at any point this year. Both Raúl Ruidíaz and João Paulo are expected to have recovered from their hamstring injuries that kept them out of the regular season finale, and Jordan Morris, who has about 75 minutes of game time under his belt, could be in a position to start. Additionally, Jimmy Medranda should be available for selection in that match, according to Schmetzer.
Only Will Bruin and Nicolás Lodeiro remain longer-term issues, with their prospects for a return this year decidedly up in the air. The Sounders are hopeful Bruin could potentially return should they advance to the Western Conference final or MLS Cup, while Lodeiro’s ongoing knee issues have all but ruled him out for the match against Real Salt Lake, at the very least.
“With any surgery, there’s always complications [and] there’s always good moments,” Schmetzer said. “We’ll just have to see.”
Once the team is together, Schmetzer said they’ll be able to really focus on Real Salt Lake. But even with former head coach Fredy Juarez on staff, Schmetzer doesn’t believe there is much inside information to be mined, given the changes his opponent has made in the last few months.
“Pablo’s [Mastroeni] changed the team,” Schmetzer said. “Players are the same [and] you can pick from Fredy the individual tendencies of certain players, which helps. But as far as the overall scheme, I think Pablo’s changed it.”