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Sounders confident Josh Atencio will learn from mistake

Sounders still trying to figure out how to manage Atencio’s absence.

Last Updated
2 min read

RENTON – Jackson Ragen knows exactly how Josh Atencio is feeling.

During the Seattle Sounders centerback’s first MLS season in 2022, he picked up two yellow cards just a couple of minutes apart on either side of halftime and was ejected from a home game against the Portland Timbers. The Sounders went on to lose that game, 3-0.

Atencio’s ejection from Saturday’s game wasn’t quite as catastrophic, but it was clearly momentum changing. Up until Atencio needlessly went in for a tackle about 80 yards from his goal, the Sounders had been controlling the match. They ended up having to hold on just to get a tie.

“I told him it could be worse,” Ragen said of his conversation with Atencio. “I told him just to move past it and put it behind him. It’s a heat of the moment thing, it’s a second yellow but something to learn from and then forget about.”

Ragen can provide a good example in that way, too.

The ejection against the Timbers came at a point when Ragen had made 11 consecutive starts in league play. But after that, he struggled to regain his spot in the rotation and made just two more starts over the final three months of the season.

But Ragen earned back his starting spot the following season, and was a key reason the Sounders had the best defense in the league. Notably, he also avoided getting anymore red cards.

Prior to this game, Atencio had been on quite a run of form. The 21-year-old established himself as a regular starter as the Sounders surged into the playoffs last year and had been arguably the team’s best midfielder in the early stages of this season.

There’s plenty of reason to think it was a momentary lapse of judgement. This was just Atencio’s second red card in more than 7,000 professional minutes.

“The kid’s a great kid,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “He’s super talented. He wants to win so bad he has to know the first yellow card, nine minutes later he can’t rush into a tackle. That’s just inexperience. He’ll learn from it. He felt horrible. He’ll be better for it.”

Adapting to Atencio’s absence

While Atencio may come out of this a better and smarter player, the reality is that the Sounders will need to figure out how to cover for his absence on Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes.

“It scrambles things up and makes things more of a mess,” Schmetzer admitted.

Schmetzer mentioned at least two possible solutions:

  1. Insert Danny Leyva into Atencio’s spot and have him operate as a double-pivot with Obed Vargas.
  2. Move Cristian Roldan from right midfielder into the central midfield, a position he played extensively, but not with any regularity since 2020.

In training, it appears as if Schmetzer is more inclined to give Leyva a shot. Leyva was one of the standouts during preseason and has nearly 6,000 minutes of professional experience, mostly playing that position.