In a Seattle Sounders season defined by a long injury list, defender Patrick Ianni was the pioneer.
Ianni was injured during preseason fitness testing, and he hasn’t yet played one second of this Major League Soccer season.
That could change tonight when Seattle visits Sporting Kansas City in what will be the eighth game of its regular season.
“It’s a blessing,” Ianni said after full participation in practice sessions last week. “It’s nice to be back. Never take it for granted.”
Ianni traveled with his teammates on this two-game trip. He was on the 18-man roster Saturday in the 2-2 draw at Philadelphia, but did not take the pitch.
He is not among the five Sounders listed on the injury report for tonight. And he could make his playing and starting debuts all at once if coach Sigi Schmid decides to rest either central defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado or Djimi Traore for Seattle’s second game in five days.
“Generally you don’t sub a lot in the back, so once you’re out there — once you’re starting as a defender — the expectation is that you can go 90 minutes,” Schmid said last week. “But when you look at it, (Ianni is) sort of like at the end of your hard preseason. So now he’s got to recover through that, and then we’ll see where he’s at.”
Ianni appeared in 16 MLS games last season, as part of a loose rotation with Hurtado and Jeff Parke. He projected as a regular presence in back again this year, especially after Parke was traded over the off-season.
However, that changed in late January when the club was going through routine fitness testing and Ianni fractured the fourth metatarsal in his right foot during a jumping test.
“It was just landing coming down from a jump,” Ianni said. “Both feet kind of landed on the outside. It happened so fast — we don’t have video of it or anything — all I know is my ankle kind of turned on the right side.”
Initial reports indicated Ianni would be out four to six weeks, but that proved optimistic.
“Literally right when it happened, I knew there was nothing I could do about it except take care of everything day by day,” Ianni said. “That went well for about the first six weeks: just taking it day by day and doing what I could to get back as soon as possible. Then around the six-week mark I thought I was going to start climbing a little quicker. It took a little more time, which was to be expected.”
There could be some extra meaning if his return comes tonight.
Kansas City was the opponent when Ianni scored his only goal of last season — and it ended up being voted MLS goal of the year.
Ianni got on the end of a Mauro Rosales corner kick and unleashed a leaping sideways volley from 10 yards, providing Seattle’s only score in a 1-1 draw.
It was Ianni’s fourth goal since coming into the league in 2006, and he called it the best goal he had ever scored “in practice, in a game, or since I was born.”
However, Ianni’s possible return to the pitch does not signal an end to the Sounders’ season-long limp. Starting forward Obafemi Martins is expected to be out again, while starting midfielders Steve Zakuani and Shalrie Joseph are questionable.
“I think we’re starting to catch ourselves,” Schmid said. “We’re starting to get a better balance of players on the field in terms of work rates, being able to hold onto the ball, and skills, etc.
“But it’s tough when you’re playing next to a new partner every game, and you’re starting to understand how this guy wants the ball and when he wants the ball, then the next game you’re playing with someone else who wants the ball a little differently.”