TUKWILA, Wash. — There were some familiar sights at Seattle Sounders training on Wednesday. Nicolás Lodeiro was patrolling the midfield, sliding around and spraying passes. Many of those passes were aimed at Raúl Ruidíaz, who had a couple nice finishes.
The two Designated Players have now been in full training together all week and will likely be available for selection when the Sounders visit Minnesota United on Saturday.
Neither has played in over a month. Lodeiro’s last appearance was as a halftime substitute in the regular-season opener on Feb. 27, while Ruidíaz hasn’t played since coming out at halftime of the 5-0 win over FC Motagua on Feb. 24. Ruidíaz has been dealing with a strained quad and has been in training since last week. Lodeiro was first out with a strained adductor and was close to returning a couple weeks ago, but then entered the league’s “health and safety protocols” before returning this week.
Jimmy Medranda, who has yet to play this year, has also been a full training participant. Aside from Yeimar (high-ankle sprain), the Sounders should be very close to full strength soon.
But even with the Concacaf Champions League semifinals starting a week from now, the Sounders insist they’re more focused on making sure their injured players stay back rather than just getting them back.
“It’s all about working together, about trusting our medical staff and their advice,” GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey said during Sounders Weekly. “Can you ramp up in a sustainable way? If you fail at any step of the return-to-play process, you have to start over. With some of these older players, ‘start over’ means another weeks-long or month-long process to build the body back up. We just have to continue to be patient and cautious. Once we get these guys back, they should be able to stay back.
“We want to prioritize Champions League but we have a couple guys on the cusp of this. There’s a lot of potential here to have the full group assembled for the first time, but we have to be patient. We have a good team. We always have options, we always have choices. We have 20 good players on this team and are capable of getting results with a wide range of players.”
Another youngster to watch
With several Sounders still away on international duty, there was some room for an extra body at training. That opened the door for the inclusion of Stuart Hawkins, a 15-year-old centerback from Fox Island. Hawkins also traveled with the Sounders to Palm Springs during preseason and more recently was called into the United States U17 camp, where he made a couple of appearances against Uruguay and Argentina.
The Sounders will play a home match against FC Cincinnati on Sept. 27, the new date for the match that had originally been scheduled for April 9 but moved in order to accommodate the CCL semifinals. The new date comes on the final day of an international window, but effectively avoids any schedule congestion.
Even with their return to health, the Sounders are still missing a few of their internationals. Nouhou (Cameroon) and Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) are now done after helping their teams qualify for the World Cup; Obed Vargas should be back soon after spending the last week with the U20 team (he even scored a goal in Tuesday’s 5-3 win over River Plate); and Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan (USA) finish up their qualifying campaign tonight.
“We hope they get some minutes,” Sounders assistant coach Preki said. “It would be nice to get some game sharpness. We’re excited for them and excited to see a couple more players qualify for the World Cup.”
Preki preaches patience
Preki said he’d be “very, very, very surprised” if the United States somehow fails to punch their ticket to Qatar tonight, and is very optimistic about the group’s potential. But the former U.S. international also said he hopes we don’t get too carried away.
“It’s a process for us,” he said. “It’s a great first step for a young group of players to qualify. But the process doesn’t stop, they’re not even close to their peak. We also have to be very careful about the level of expectations. We have to support them and let them grow together.”