João Paulo is not yet at 100% fitness, but is close enough that Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said the midfielder would play at least some role in the Club World Cup quarterfinal match against Al Ahly on Saturday. The Brazilian last played a competitive match nearly nine months ago when he suffered an ACL tear in the Concacaf Champions League final, but he’s been a full participant in training for at least the last couple weeks and played 45 minutes in the Sounders’ most recent preseason match against Sweden’s Hammarby.
It wasn’t all positive news on the injury front, however, as Schmetzer also revealed that Obed Vargas won’t play against Al Ahly and all indications are that he’s unlikely to be available in any Club World Cup matches should the Sounders advance. Vargas, who missed the second half of last season with a back injury, suffered a quadriceps strain that forced him to sit out last week’s preseason games.
Aside from those two, the Sounders seem to be as close to full fitness as could possibly be expected after almost exactly four weeks of preseason training. The only player besides Obed on the availability report is Andrew Thomas. The backup goalkeeper is out after back surgery.
Formation change to suit Héber?
Asked to give his impressions of offseason acquisition Héber, Schmetzer said the forward had been so good that the coaching staff is weighing potential formation changes that would allow him to play alongside Raúl Ruidíaz.
“We’ve played variations of the 4-2-3-1 for the last 7.5 years,” Schmetzer said. “We talked to Will Bruin about playing with two forwards. Héber is certainly pushing us to see what he and Raúl look like on the field together. That’s the biggest compliment we can give him.”
Héber has played almost exclusively as a center forward since coming to MLS in 2019, but he does have about 50 games worth of experience playing as a left winger. While it’s hard to imagine a two-forward set that also finds room for Jordan Morris, it could make sense to try deploying the trio in a 4-3-3 formation.
Rules to know
- Based on the FIFA’s Club World Cup regulations, if Saturday’s match is tied at the end of regulation two 15-minute extra-time periods will be played. If the score remains tied at the end of the 30 minutes, the match will be decided in a penalty shootout.
- Just like MLS regular-season matches, each team will be permitted to make five substitutions during three instances; If substitutions are made at halftime, that will not count as one of the three instances. Teams will be granted an extra substitution if the game goes to extra time.
- England’s Anthony Taylor will serve as the game’s center referee.