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Back injury will sideline Obed Vargas for ‘multiple weeks’

Team discovered a stress fracture after midfielder complained of pain following LAFC match.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Seattle Sounders FC Michael Thomas Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Obed Vargas has returned to Alaska to be with family and “decompress mentally,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters on Tuesday. The move is just more evidence that the Sounders do not expect Vargas back anytime soon.

TUKWILA — Obed Vargas will miss “multiple weeks” — and possibly quite a bit longer — after scans revealed that he has a stress fracture in his lower back, Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said on Thursday.

“It’s not a great injury,” Schmetzer told reporters. “He’ll be out multiple weeks, seeing a back specialist every couple of weeks, but this is going to need time to heal.”

Typically speaking, it takes at least 4-8 weeks for a player to return to “sporting activities” after suffering a stress fracture in their back. Vargas will likely need some additional time to regain his fitness, as well.

Vargas first started experiencing some discomfort with his back a couple months ago, Schmetzer said, but it simply got better with rest and did not persist. After the LAFC match, however, there was another flare-up and the Sounders felt it necessary do some formal tests, which revealed the extent of the injury.

Unlike most injuries where there’s a clear cause and process for recovery, stress fractures are accumulative and simply take time to heal through rest. Vargas, who’s still just 16, has already logged nearly 1,300 minutes in all competitions, ninth-most on the team. He had been due to join the United States U20 team following the Sporting KC match on Saturday.

“I’ve asked our guys to give us ideas of how we can prevent something like that from happening again,” Schmetzer said. “He is a young kid, a lot of stress on his body, a lot of games. It happens.

“Mentally he’s down, of course, he wants to play. But he’s going to have a long career.”

In the meantime, the Sounders’ depth in central midfield will be tested even more than it already was. Vargas had become the Sounders’ starter in part due to João Paulo’s injury. Schmetzer said Josh Atencio, Danny Leyva and Kelyn Rowe would likely all get opportunities to replace Vargas. It’s also possible that Cristian Roldan could slide back a line.

Rowe will seemingly get the first chance to play as he’s been the most used of that group, with nearly 1,200 minutes across all competitions this year, but he also has been Schmetzer’s preferred backup at several positions.

Leyva has only played about 100 minutes for the Sounders this year, but recently logged his first MLS assist and has another 620 minutes with the Tacoma Defiance in MLS Next Pro.

Atencio, who had a promising run of starts in 2021, has been battling injuries for much of this season. He has not played for the Sounders since May 22, but logged 45 minutes for the Defiance on Saturday.

“It’s tough, but the fact of the matter is we have a deep team,” Schmetzer said. “[Vargas] covered for JP and we have Josh coming back, Danny, Kelyn can fit in there, so the team will be fine. It’s a bummer for the kid. He was looking pretty good.”

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