The international break has not been without its share of off-the-field storylines (more on that in a bit), but on the pitch, the Seattle Sounders have been well represented, with the results by-and-large positive. The last round of matches are already underway, and several Sounders will be in action through Thursday evening. When — and how much — they play will determine their availability for Saturday’s midday matchup with Minnesota United.
Here’s how they’ve fared thus far:
Raúl Ruidíaz, Peru
Ruidíaz’s “will they, won’t they” relationship with Peruvian head coach Ricardo Gareca is currently on the uptick, after they took a much-publicized break during the 2021 Copa America, which saw Ruidíaz dropped from the squad. He was involved in the last set of qualifiers in June, but saw precious little playing time. Ruidíaz has seen the field as a substitute in both matches thus far, coming on in the 86th minute of Peru’s 1-1 draw with Uruguay on Sept. 2, and logging about 15 minutes in their 1-0 victory over Venezuela. The pair of positive results have Peru up to a sixth-place tie with Paraguay with 8 points (though behind on the tiebreak due to a poor goal-differential), and only two points from the fifth-place spot, which would qualify them for the intercontinental playoff.
What’s next: Thursday (Sept. 9) at Brazil. Peru’s hopes of rescuing World Cup qualification rely on picking up some road points, and it’s not likely to happen going on the road to Brazil. Whether Ruidíaz figures in the match may depend on whether Gareca thinks there is any chance of a result on the road. If not, he may let Ruidíaz get a runout, to save his preferred starter some minutes.
Xavier Arreaga, Ecuador
Arreaga’s Ecuador has also seen a couple of positive results, beating Paraguay 2-0 during the weekend and managing a 0-0 result against Chile while playing with 10 men for the final 30 minutes of the match. Arreaga didn’t figure in the latter game, but started and played 60 minutes in the victory over Paraguay. Ecuador sits comfortably in third place in CONMEBOL qualifying with 13 points, and a solid +6 goal differential.
What’s next: Thursday (Sept. 9) at Uruguay. One might call this the “Battle for Breathing Room.” Third place meets fourth, and a result for either (or both) would make the sides feel comfortable about their positions. Uruguay will be favored at home, but they’ve hardly been dominant thus far in qualifying, so Ecuador may think they can grind out another result on the road.
Brad Smith, Australia
Make it 3 for 3 in Sounders helping their teams to successful qualifying campaigns. Smith started and went 55 minutes for Australia on Tuesday in their 1-0 victory on the road versus Vietnam. Smith didn’t feature in Australia’s other match, which saw the Socceroos dominate China, 3-0. The pair of wins have Australia tied at the top of their group with Saudi Arabia on six points, but leading the tiebreak with a superior (+4) goal differential.
What’s next: This portion of qualifying is over, meaning Smith should be back in time for the Sounders match with Minnesota United, though the extensive travel may test his availability for the match.
Cristian Roldan, USA
Yeah. Roldan has been a contributor in both matches for the red, white and blue, coming on as a substitute in El Salvador (78’) and in Nashville against Canada (83’). The late nature of the substitutions meant that Roldan had little time to influence either match, though there was some Roldan-on-Roldan violence in the 0-0 draw at El Salvador to open up the USA’s qualifying campaign.
Of course, nobody is talking about that. All of the discussion has been focused on the USA’s lackluster performance and results, after they were pegged back by Canada in the second match for a 1-1 home draw. USA is currently tied for 3rd place in Concacaf qualifying, though tiebreakers have them in fifth place, which would leave them one spot outside of the intercontinental playoff spot.
Oh, and there is the matter of midfielder Weston McKennie, who was dismissed from the team for serious violations of Covid protocol. USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter declined to discuss the specifics, though a report from ESPN’s Jeffrey Carlisle indicated McKennie spent a night outside of the team bubble and brought an unauthorized individual into USMNT bubble, as well.
What’s next: Wednesday (Sept. 8) at Honduras. This is only game 3 of 14 of qualifying. The USA is not yet in danger of missing the World Cup for a second consecutive cycle. Still, the ghosts of Couva loom over the fanbase, and Berhalter acknowledged the pressure is building. Adding to that pressure are injuries that have robbed the team of some high-profile talent (Gio Reyna, Sergino Dest). With Deandre Yedlin nursing a knock and forced to play extra minutes against Canada, his fitness and availability is also a question. Could that mean right back Roldan gets a run? Berhalter brought Roldan into the team in part because of his versatility, and Roldan has significant experience with the Sounders at the position.
Alex Roldan, El Salvador
Expectations can be a funny thing. El Salvador is sitting on just as many points as the USA (and Canada, and Honduras), and there aren’t many in the El Salvadorian fanbase calling for head coach Hugo Perez’s head. That said, El Salvador are in arguably a more precarious position than any of the other three teams tied on two points, because both of their draws happened at home. For his part, the younger Roldan has played a far larger role for his national team so far, starting both games and earning plaudits for his performance against the USA in particular.
What’s next: Wednesday (Sept. 8) at Canada. El Salvador finally goes on the road, and it will be a stiff test against a confident if wary Canada side that was able to draw the USA on the road, but also dropped points at home to Honduras, and had to come back to get the tie. Roldan should probably be expected to start, as he appears indispensable to the team right now, but that would surely rule him out for the match on the weekend against Minnesota. If he comes off the bench Wednesday, he might be able to play a role for the Sounders on Saturday.