By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
TUKWILA — The Seattle Sounders’ win last weekend at D.C. United came at a cost that will linger through their Saturday match at Vancouver.
Starting midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda each picked up yellow cards that pushed them over Major League Soccer’s five-card accumulation limit. Both will serve one-game suspensions this weekend when Seattle returns to league play against its Cascadia Cup rival to the north.
“The battle at midfield is always important because possession is always a big part of the team,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “And (the Whitecaps) are a team that likes to counter, likes to play balls over the top, so you want to make sure that you sort of restrict their ability to do that. … Ozzie and Pineda can’t play, so we’re going to have to make some changes and adjustments. We’re talking through those things right now, but we’ll figure it out.”
Whatever Schmid had in mind about replacing half of his starting midfield, he was not willing to say. However, the return of U.S. national team members Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin do not seem to figure into the equation. Both were reported on their way back from World Cup in Brazil on Wednesday. But Schmid has said he plans to give each some time off to recover physically and mentally from the national team training camp and its four-game run to the tournament’s round of 16.
So, alongside probable returning starters Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa, Schmid could pick from midfield reserves such as Micheal Azira, Fabio Pereira, and rookie Aaron Kovar, who made his MLS debut at D.C.
“It was exciting,” Kovar said. “Obviously it’s great to be part of it anytime the team wins. I think that was the biggest thing: getting on and helping close out a game. I was happy we got the three points. No. 1 team in the league, we’ve got a little cushion at the top: It was an awesome experience.”
Kovar signed a homegrown-player contract in January. Before that he had been named Washington’s 2011 high school player of the year at Garfield (Seattle), had played in the Sounders Academy and with the Pierce County-based Sounders U-23, and starred for two seasons at Stanford.
However, the only game experience during his first professional season had come in the MLS Reserve League and in U.S. Open Cup – until Schmid sent him on for the final 18 minutes against United.
“He’s one of the first ones out (at practice) and one of the last ones to leave, so the kid deserves it,” Neagle said. “And he’s been doing a great job in reserve league and Open Cup games. … It’s great for other academy kids to see that and have a hope for playing in MLS.”
Other midfield options could include forward/midfielder Tristan Bowen, or forward/midfielder/defender David Estrada.
Schmid also could return Brad Evans to midfield, which was his regular position before shifting to the back line in Yedlin’s absence. Moving Evans one line forward would call for a corresponding defensive move on the back line. That could involve moving Jalil Anibaba back outside after playing central defense last week, or by using veteran Zack Scott in either central defense or outside.