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Assessing Sounders’ chances of making World Cup rosters

The previous high for Sounders at a World Cup is two.

SOCCER: MAR 27 World Cup Qualifier - USA v Panama Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The trip to the World Cup often tends to be bumpy, and once again in 2022 some of the world’s soccer superpowers are missing out. But in the end, four Seattle Sounders were with their national teams when they officially punched their tickets for Qatar. The most active players the Sounders have ever sent to a World Cup is two (2014, 2018), which sets up a pretty high probability that a new record will be set this November. Here’s how we’d assess those chances:

Almost a lock

Nouhou (Cameroon): Very much a fringe national-teamer prior to last year, Nouhou has established himself as a fixture at left back for the Indomitable Lions. He ended up logging 422 minutes during their qualifying campaign and was on the field when they beat Algeria in a playoff, which came on the heels of playing in all six of Cameroon’s Africa Cup of Nations matches. It would beyond shocking if he’s not on Rigobert Song’s final roster.

Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador): Although he never got off the bench during this most recent window, Arreaga did play in half of Ecuador’s qualifiers during this cycle. That included seven starts and 622 minutes, the most of any Sounders player during qualifying. He seems very likely to be included in Gustavo Alfaro’s group.

Positioned well

Jordan Morris (United States): Despite missing the early parts of qualifying while he was recovering from ACL injury, Morris still managed to make six appearances during the qualifying cycle and even started a must-win game late in the process. Gregg Berhalter and his staff even thought highly enough of him that they included him in camp when he was hurt. Much can change, but he seems more likely than not to make the squad.

Longer shots

Cristian Roldan (United States): It might not seem that way, but Roldan actually played in five of the 14 matches during the final round of qualifying. That he didn’t make a single start during that process and has only started one competitive match since the 2019 Gold Cup is a clear indication that he’s probably very much on the bubble. On the other hand, he is called up very consistently and seems to be a popular locker-room guy who helps raise the level of training. If the rosters expand to 26, he seems to have something like a 50/50 shot.

Raúl Ruidíaz (Peru): There are a couple things working against Ruidíaz’s World Cup hopes. The biggest one is that Perú hasn’t actually qualified yet. They will face the winner of Australia and United Arab Emirates in a one-game intercontinental playoff in June. But even if Perú qualify, it’s unclear how likely Ruidíaz is to be included. While he has appeared in seven qualifiers during this cycle, the last one was in September and he hasn’t started since November 2020. Injuries have played some role in that, but so has his national team form (he’s scored just four times in 42 caps and his last goal was in 2018). Whether he’s called up for that playoff will likely tell us a lot more about his prospects.

True long shots

Nicolás Lodeiro (Uruguay): After being one of the final cuts ahead of the 2018 World Cup, Lodeiro has pretty much fallen out of the team. He hasn’t made an appearance for Uruguay since 2019 and 33-year-olds don’t often get back. That said, Lodeiro is still an exceptionally talented player and it seems within the realm of possibility that he could play well enough to get another shot.

One extreme long shot

Obed Vargas (USA/Mexico): Just to be entirely clear, I do NOT think this is going to happen, but I could envision a scenario where it does. Vargas is still just 16, but is already getting calls into the USA U20 squad and is a regular starter for the Sounders. For the sake of argument, let’s say he keeps improving at this current rate. For now, he seems committed to the United States. But he’s also eligible to represent Mexico, and was a massive fan as a child. It doesn’t seem entirely outside the realm of possibility that El Tri could dangle a World Cup roster spot as enticement to switch. Maybe the US reciprocates. Is it really anymore far-fetched than Julian Green getting the nod over Landon Donovan in 2014?

OK, OK, one more name

Abdoulaye Cissoko (Senegal): This is probably even more unlikely than Vargas getting called in, but Cissoko probably has a chance greater than zero. Last year, he said he’d been in contact with the Senegal national team. And while all their defenders are playing for pretty massive European clubs, the 22-year-old centerback has enough upside that it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could get a look.