The MLS season is a grind. Thirty-four games over a seven-month period will wear down even the fittest athletes. Injuries are a part of any sport, but how teams adjust when a star player or two go down can make or break an entire season.
After the best start to a campaign in franchise history, the Seattle Sounders are now dealing with injuries up and down their roster.
As I stated in my season preview, one of the keys to the year was the team depth as well as their capability of interchanging players yet still remaining a dangerous team. We are now going to see if that is true because this team is currently devastated with an assortment of injuries to starters and reserves alike.
Just look at the injury report, and it will turn any fan’s stomach.
· Midfielders: Victor Rodriguez (concussion), Gustav Svensson (left hamstring strain)
· Forwards: Will Bruin (left hamstring strain), Raul Ruidiaz (right heel contusion)
· Defenders: Chad Marshall (right knee inflammation), Nouhou (left ankle sprain)
The injuries began March 30 during the Vancouver game when Ruidiaz went down after getting kicked in the foot. Heading into the game, the team had won three straight and started the same 11 players in those first four games. Ruidiaz got through the game somehow, and they managed a 0-0 tie. Two more wins lifted the Sounders to 5-0-1 on the year, and they sat atop the Western Conference standings.
The excitement surrounding the team was on the rise, and the expectations went through the roof. Will they ever lose?
As ESPN’s Lee Corso likes to say, “Not so fast my friends.”
Pump the brakes, Sounders fans.
After beating Toronto on April 13 the Sounders are 0-1-2, and it very well could have/should have been three straight losses.
With no Marshall or Ruidiaz, the Sounders got dismantled by Los Angeles FC 4-1. LA ran circles around the makeshift lineup and quickly replaced the Sounders as the hottest and arguably the most talented team in the league.
That happened fast. The San Jose Earthquakes came into CenturyLink field last week and showed the world the blueprint on how to give the Sounders headaches all over the field. With Ruidiaz still out and no Will Bruin, the teeth of the team’s offense was left to forward Jordan Morris. The Earthquakes knew this and took him out of the game. They double-teamed him and gave assist leader Nicolas Lodeiro no one to pass the ball to. San Jose pressed the Sounders all over the field, forcing errant passes and took an easy 2-0 lead. Ugh.
All sorts of questions began to surface. Is the Sounders’ perceived depth overrated? Can Lodeiro only excel when surrounded by the team’s best players? Is Chad Marshall so valuable the defense can’t thrive without him?
Two quick Sounders goals got them back into the game, but San Jose continued its control, passing and pressing all over the field. They rattled the crossbar on three separate occasions and should have won the game. They were the better team. The Sounders took the 2-2 tie and ran off the field with joy.
Just seven days later, LA FC was back, pitting the two teams again just a week apart in a scheduling quirk. Svenson, Nouhou, and Rodriguez all went down in the San Jose game, so to say the Sounders were short-handed heading into Sunday’s match was an understatement. After getting taken to pieces in the 4-1 debacle, the Sounders could not possibly hang with the league’s top scoring team with a stopgap lineup on three day’s rest. It did not look promising.
Two goals in the first five minutes knotted the game at 1-1 and stunned the crowd. Could this possibly be a much tighter battle than it looked on paper?
That all changed in the 18th minute when Cristian Roldan was shown a red card and sent off. The call was dubious to say the least, and from my vantage point in the stands, the LA’s Eduard Atuesta had just as big of a part in the fracas as Roldan. However, referee Ted Unkel saw it differently.
I will say the refereeing left a lot to be desired on the day. Unkel lost control of the game early and never got it back. All you can ask for is consistency. It was massively lacking on Sunday. The players and especially the fans were continually bewildered time and time again, and that left many of us scratching our heads.
Clearly, Roldan must realize he has to keep his head in the game in that situation as he was desperately needed, considering that he was one of the few starters healthy enough to play on that day. The team needed him, and he let them down. Sure, stick up for your teammate but do it without looking like it was your first MLS game.
I asked if the Sounders can weather this devastating injury bug? If the rest of the LA game, with the Sounders playing a man down, is any indication of future success, I am optimistically excited.
When a team goes down a man, it becomes a defensive battle to keep the other team out of the net. All other options go out the window, and the Sounders hunkered down and had to hold on for the remaining 80-plus minutes.
And a battle it was. Both teams slugged it out, and despite LA whiffing on a couple of tap-ins, the Sounders were able to hold on. It was a gutsy battle that very well could propel them forward with fortitude as they patch together a line-up of youngsters for the next couple of games. The Sounders have to be applauded for holding LA to a 1-1 tie.
Let’s be honest. They stole one here and another against San Jose. It could have been three straight losses, but instead they managed to scratch out a couple of points.
However, the backslapping and congratulations following Sunday’s game will be short-lived. The team travels to Minnesota Saturday without Roldan and Kelvin Leerdam, who also received a red card in the game’s dying moments. We can only hope that Ruidiaz and Rodriguez will return, but the others are all day-to-day.
Minnesota is off to a good start (4-2-3), so this road game will not be easy. But if the Sounders demonstrate the grit and determination they showed on Sunday, a win is not out of the question. That could buy them even more time for the regulars to get healthy. Fingers crossed.