TUKWILA, Wash. – One of the more pleasant developments during the Seattle Sounders’ nine-game unbeaten run has been the emergence of Reed Baker-Whiting as a viable option at fullback, both as a starter and as a reserve. The 18-year-old has ably filled in on both sides, showcased some impressive defensive chops and even proved himself dangerous in the attack. In addition to picking up his first MLS assist and forcing an own-goal, Baker-Whiting is also among the per-90 league leaders in progressive carries, successful take-ons and progressive passes received.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’ll be available for a significant part of Seattle’s first-round MLS Playoffs series against FC Dallas after he suffered a hamstring strain in the regular-season finale against St. Louis City.
“Probably not the first Dallas game, maybe the second game is a push,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said about Baker-Whiting’s availability following Tuesday’s training session. “But if we need him, he might be back for the third game.”
While not exactly good news, it’s well short of the worst-case scenario many feared when cameras caught Baker-Whiting sobbing when he came off the pitch.
Schmetzer said that was more a product of a young player who had limited experience with injuries and had been having a very good match.
“The kid’s never been injured before,” Schmetzer said. “I remember when Josh [Atencio] got his first injury, they’re the same. They’re young, they get emotional, they don’t really know how bad it is. He was feeling he had a good game and he had to come out.”
Assuming Baker-Whiting can pick up where he left off when he eventually returns, he promises to be an intriguing tool and is just the latest of what is becoming steady stream of players coming to the first team through the Sounders’ developmental pipeline. The win over St. Louis, for instance, featured five players who played for the Sounders Academy and two others they drafted.
“Reed fits into what is now becoming an annually told story, which is here’s another young player who’s gotten minutes, who’s proven themselves, who’s been in our environment that’s worked with this staff and teammates, built trust and taken their opportunity,” Sounders GM Craig Waibel said. “He has done a great job this year of taking that opportunity. Until a young player does that, it’s hard to repeat.
“We didn’t really see a bad game from Reed and that’s really promising. That’s keeping us optimistic as an organization that we’re doing a better job in that final phase.”
Rowe’s potential return
One player who stands to potentially benefit if Baker-Whiting misses time is Kelyn Rowe, who has been healthy for at least a month but been unable to get back onto the field, in large part because of the youngster’s development. Rowe has nine appearances this season, including three starts, but last played on July 1.
“We had a conversation out there just today,” Schmetzer said. “He wants to play. He’s another veteran guy we’ll rely on and we’ll need. We have to keep him ready.”
With every tied game going directly to penalties during the first round of the playoffs, the Sounders will likely be practicing shots from the spot throughout the week. Although they have not actually won a penalty shootout since the 2016 MLS Cup final, Schmetzer expressed confidence in the players he’d likely have at his disposal.
Among the players he name-checked were Nicolás Lodeiro (24 for 27 in his professional career), Fredy Montero (13 straight conversions), Raúl Ruidíaz (7 for 8 since joining Sounders) and, somewhat surprisingly, AB Cissoko (14 of 15 with Sounders and Defiance).