TUKWILA — The closest thing to a literal must-win game the Seattle Sounders have ever played during the regular-season takes place on Tuesday. While a loss wouldn’t literally eliminate them, the scenarios that would still allow them to qualify for a 14th consecutive postseason would become almost laughably far-fetched.
Given the stakes of the match, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer would surely hope to have something closer to a full-strength lineup. But despite a fair amount of behind-the-scenes work, it does not look like any of the players called into international duty will be available. None of Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador), Jordan Morris (United States), Nouhou (Cameroon), Alex Roldán (El Salvador) and Raúl Ruidíaz (Perú) were training with the Sounders on Monday nor are they expected to suddenly show up for Tuesday’s match. Nicolás Lodeiro was in training, but he will also be unavailable while serving a suspension for yellow-card accumulation. That’s six likely starters who will be missing.
One player they will have, though, is Cristian Roldan. As recently as a couple weeks ago, the Sounders indicated that Roldan wouldn’t be available until the Sporting KC match on the weekend, but he’s made enough progress that Schmetzer said “he’ll be involved in the game.”
Roldan hasn’t played since Aug. 14 after undergoing groin surgery. How much he plays will likely be determined by his level of pain after being administered pregame medication.
“That injury is not like a pulled muscle or a sprained ankle, it’s a pain tolerance thing,” Schmetzer said. “They release whatever they release in there to get the athletic pubalgia to settle down.
“He’ll take a bunch of drugs before the game and we’ll roll him out there and see what we get.”
Youth vs. veterans
One of the overarching questions heading into the FCC match will be whether Schmetzer feels more comfortable going with veterans or youth players to fill those gaps in the starting lineup.
Schmetzer wasn’t giving too many hints into his thought process, though.
“Sometimes those things run concurrent, other times they are at odds with each other,” Schmetzer said, when asked if he chooses the best players or the most upside. “It is an interesting dynamic. Coaches can go ‘young players win games, experienced players win championships.’ I think we’ve won championships with young guys out there.
“I’m a little more conservative than most — I like guys with a little more experience, but I’ve started a 16-year-old in a bunch of games this year, won a championship with a 16-year-old on the field. It’s more about the level of players, the fitness level, the mental acumen. The way the pieces fit together. That was the challenging thing for us, missing a bunch of guys. How do we get to 4-2-3-1? How do we make that happen?”
Shout out for Defiance
One of the trickle-down problems of the Sounders missing so many players for Tuesday’s game was not being able to loan almost anyone to the Tacoma Defiance for their MLS NEXT Pro playoff game against Houston on Sunday. Despite having just one first-team player, though, the Defiance managed to come back from 2-0 down to win on penalty kicks. Even more impressive is the Defiance grabbed the equalizer only a few moments after Marlon Vargas hit a potentially game-tying penalty off the crossbar in stoppage time. Vargas had earlier scored a penalty and then roofed his shot from the spot in the shootout.
“The most important thing to me was the culture of the club being about winning and never giving up was on full display last night,” Schmetzer said. “Those kids never quit, even when Marlon missed that second penalty and the air could have come out, they went back down and attacked and got another goal. I loved it. It was great.”