By John Boyle Herald Writer
TUKWILA — The Seattle Sounders came into the season with a lot of uncertainty at forward because of the departure of Fredy Montero. The team then found what it hopes is the long-term solution by finalizing a deal with Obafemi Martins last week.
Tonight in San Jose, however, Seattle again will be unsettled up front.
Martins, who made his Sounders debut coming off the bench last weekend, won’t be available because he is playing for Nigeria in a World Cup qualifier. Also gone is Eddie Johnson, the team’s leading scorer, who is with the U.S. National team for a pair of qualifiers. The problem is compounded because attacking midfielder Mario Martinez is away playing for Honduras.
The absences mean the Sounders could be hard pressed to come up with goals as they search for their first MLS victory of the season.
“It’s good that national teams want our guys, that’s obviously good, but the timing isn’t necessarily good for us just because we’re at the start of the season and we’re trying to find ourselves,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “We’ve finally got the whole group together so some training time together would have been nice. But it is what is. We accept it, we have to move on. It’s tough when you lose players all in the same area of the field. That makes it a little bit harder, but every team goes through it to an extent and we’ll get through it.”
The Sounders’ offense already has been hit or miss. Seattle did enjoy a three-goal outburst in the second half of a CONCACAF Champions League win over Tigres, but in two league games, as well as the opening leg of that Champions league quarterfinal, the Sounders have managed just one goal over a span of 270 minutes. The players who will try to spark the offense minus two starting forwards say they can’t suddenly try to do more just because players like Martins and Johnson are unavailable.
“We just keep playing and do what we always do,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “We can’t change our style of play. Obviously, we’re losing really good players, but we also have good players who stayed back. So whatever team goes out (today) just has to play the way we play and believe in ourselves and try to get the goals where we can. There are different guys who can score on this team and we have to show that on the weekend.”
As for just what Seattle will do up front, Schmid has options, though there are no simple answers.
The most obvious lineup would feature Sammy Ochoa, who started against Portland last weekend, paired with David Estrada at forward. Estrada, however, is just getting back from an ankle injury, and while he played 45 minutes in a reserve game last weekend, he might not be ready for a full game. Zakuani or midfielder Mauro Rosales are both capable of pushing up and playing forward, but moving either of them up would be easier to do if Martinez were available to play on the wing. Schmid also mentioned the possibility of playing rookie Eriq Zavaleta, who has split time at defender and forward in practice.
If Estrada is able to return to action, it would be a big moment for the player who was a breakout star early last season when he scored three goals in the 2012 season opener. He has been unable to get on the field this year because of the injury. Estrada, who is from Salinas, Calif., which is about an hour from San Jose, would have a lot of friends and family cheering him on if he were to get into the game.
“I think I am (ready),” he said. “Obviously you don’t know until you test it. I feel good in training, so we’ll see this weekend.
Not playing this season has been difficult, Estrada said. He is eager to be a part of “a really good team” and do more than just sit and watch.
“It’s a little frustrating to watch,” Estrada said. “… Obviously going back home would be nice, see some family, but at the end of the day it’s about trying to get back in the swing of things and hopefully try to contribute to the team.”
Whoever plays forward, the Sounders could use some goals, and more importantly, a first victory of the season.
“We need the three points and those (absent) guys would help us, but we have to deal with it,” Zakuani said. “We knew it was going to happen and now we face it — deal with it and get on with it.”
The Sounders signed defender Ashani Fairclough and midfielder Philip Lund on Friday, officially adding to the roster a pair of players who have been training with the team since early in the preseason. Fairclough, 20 is a rookie who went undrafted out of South Florida. Lund, 23, has spent the past four years playing professionally in his native Denmark. … Seattle officially waived defender Adam Johansson on Friday, a move that Schmid said was coming earlier in the week. Johansson, the team’s starting right back last year, was let go primarily for salary cap reasons, Schmid explained Tuesday. Also a factor was the depth Seattle has at the position with rookie DeAndre Yedlin and midfielder Brad Evans, who will be used as a defender once recently signed midfielder Shalrie Joseph is healthy enough to take over a starting spot at center mid.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.