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Changes coming to Sounders’ starting lineup

The Sounders will feature new starters at both fullback positions.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Seattle Sounders FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA — Through the first four weeks of the MLS regular season, the Seattle Sounders’ starting lineup has been about as stable as any team’s. The only position that has seen any change from one game to another is forward, with players in the other 10 positions starting all four matches.

With three likely starters among the six players missing Saturday’s game against Sporting KC while on international duty, that’s going to change.

“Next man up, that’s one of my favorite sayings,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said.

Perhaps most notable among those absences are both of the Sounders’ starting fullbacks, Nouhou and Alex Roldan. Those are also positions where the Sounders don’t have any natural backups.

Although Kelyn Rowe has gotten most of the second-team minutes at left back, he’s a right-footed player who has logged just 19 starts at the position during his 12-year MLS career. Still, all signs point to him getting the start on Saturday.

At right back, it’s even less clear. Ethan Dobbelaere has been playing mostly as a right back in training, but he’s only started there once in his three-year MLS career. Another option to play there is Cristian Roldan, who actually replaced Alex late in the LAFC match. Cristian has three career starts at right back, but has often moved there when the Sounders are chasing a goal.

While expressing confidence in his teammates’ ability to fill in, Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei also hopes they approach the challenge with caution.

“We have more than capable players, we have some versatile players who can slot in and I think we’ll see something along the lines of that,” Frei said. “Especially when you have players playing out of their favored positions and sliding a line further back, I’d like to see some consistency and maybe a more conservative approach to things.

In the midfield a turnover can be corrected, but a line further back it can be devastating. Just be safer, especially against Kansas City.”

Wounded animal

Sporting KC comes into this match still looking for their first win, having scored a league-low one goal in four games. That’s despite leading the league in both shots (17.3) and shots on target (7.4) per game. They’ve also underperformed their Expected Goals by more than 3.7, the worst figure in the league.

One likely reason for their struggles is that Sporting KC has gotten a grand total of zero minutes from their three Designated Players, Johnny Russell, Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda. None of them are expected to start this week.

On the flip side, KC has only given up three goals and has two shutouts.

“I think they’ve actually looked quite good,” Frei said. “They’re missing pieces but I don’t see them using that as an excuse at all. I see them looking at it as a challenge. The results haven’t really been there, but they’ve met that challenge.”

Road woes

The Sounders come into this match riding a 10-match road winless streak, the longest in franchise history. They also have lost five straight road games, tying a franchise worst. What’s most remarkable about that run of futility is that the Sounders have been in every game, with all nine losses coming by just a single goal and blowing a lead in the only tie. The Sounders led in four of those matches and allowed stoppage-time goals that proved decisive in three of those games.

“I think the frustrating thing last year was we put ourselves in good positions on the road and then we’d have mental lapses,” Frei said. “We’d have greedy decision-making going for the three points rather than settling for one.

“It hasn’t been blowouts. It might make it more frustrating, but you’d rather be in those. We’re right there. It will have to come sooner or later.”

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