TUKWILA — There are two things Sounders fans can be pretty certain of heading into Seattle’s game tonight against the Los Angles Galaxy.
One, it’s a mystery exactly what kind of lineup Sounders coach Sigi Schmid will roll out, and two, whatever names Schmid writes on his lineup card, he is confident that group of players can produce another victory.
Six games into the 2012 season, the Sounders are off to their best start in four MLS seasons with a 4-1-1 record. In those six games, Seattle has had 19 different players start at least one game, and 16 have started two or more games. That’s been due in large part to injuries, but there also has been some typical early-season lineup tinkering,
Now, it would be crazy to say that any team wants injuries, and every coach would prefer, at some point in the season, to settle on his best lineup, but there is a pretty significant silver lining in Seattle’s early-season lineup shuffling.
Instead of a dozen or so players hogging all of the minutes, the Sounders have a roster full of battle-tested players, and that’s something that could come in very handy over the next two weeks. In a league in which teams typically play once a week, the Sounders are playing the second of five games in 15 days. And while some players are capable of playing twice a week with no ill effects, others, be it because of age, injuries or simply the way their body recovers, won’t be available for all of the games in this upcoming stretch.
For some teams, dipping into the reserves could mean trouble, but Seattle likes its options no matter who is on the field.
Newly acquired forward Eddie Johnson was unavailable early in the season because of injuries, and his replacement, David Estrada, scored four goals in the first two games. Patrick Ianni figured to be the odd man out in the team’s trio of center backs, yet he started the first five games before back spasms kept him out last weekend. When new right back Adam Johansson missed four games with a hamstring injury, Zach Scott helped anchor a defense that, despite starting seven different players, has been one of the best in the league, allowing three goals in six games.
“Depth is important,” said Schmid. “… Depth should help us. I think we’ve played a number of different combinations in the back and we’ve been able to solve most of the dilemmas people have presented to us with whoever is out there.
“We’re confident we can play other people and not miss a beat in terms of our performance.”
Of course striving to have depth is not a novel concept in the MLS or any other league, but Seattle has been better at having top-to-bottom talent than have most teams in the league. Depth is a big reason why Sounders has won three straight U.S. Open Cups — a tournament that goes on during the MLS regular season — and also had some success in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament while also making the playoffs every year.
Even so, players say this year’s team, in large part because so many players have been forced into action early in the season, is even better suited to handle a rigorous stretch of games.
“We feel confident with anybody stepping in,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “We’ve lost some key players at key moments, and I think we’ve learned a lot. … I feel more confident now with guys rotating in than I have in years past for sure.”
As for who will and won’t be available tonight, that remains to be seen, but as Schmid points out, both Seattle and Los Angles are in the same boat when it comes to limited rest. The real challenge for Seattle is Saturday’s game against Philadelphia when the Union will have had a week off compared to a couple of days for Seattle.
Schmid indicated that three players who returned from injuries last weekend — Johansson, Johnson and Mauro Rosales — could be held out today, then would be available for the weekend. Midfielder Alvaro Fernandez, who missed Saturday’s game with a quadriceps injury, is close to returning, but he also could be held out until the weekend.
Regardless of who is and isn’t available tonight or this weekend, the Sounders are confident that any lineup is capable of producing results.
“We’re on a good streak right now,” Johnson said. “From player one through the whole roster, when there have been injuries, we have responded well with people coming in and making contributions.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.