By John Boyle Herald Writer
TUKWILA — The Seattle Sounders, who added several key players late in the preseason and even after the Major League Soccer season started, knew it might take some time to come together and play their best.
Still, nobody really saw this season’s dismal start coming. The Sounders, who advanced to the Western Conference semifinals last season and who are not shy about stating their goal this season is an MLS Cup title, are 0-2-1 after three games. That record has them tied for last place in the conference.
But even if this season hasn’t gone according to schedule so far, nobody in rave green is panicking just yet, especially not with so many reinforcements coming in this week. In last weekend’s loss in San Jose, Seattle was without three players (Eddie Johnson, Mario Martinez and Obafemi Martins) away on national team duty and other key players were sidelined by injury. The injured included midfielders Shalrie Joseph, who has yet to play this season, and Brad Evans, who suffered a calf injury earlier this month that has kept him out of the past two games.
Joseph, added as a designated player last month, and Evans both returned to full training this week and appear to be on track to play Saturday in Salt Lake City. Martins, Johnson and Martinez should be back in training Thursday, though their availability for Saturday will depend on, in the case of Martinez and Johnson, how they recover from Tuesday’s World Cup qualifiers. (Johnson did not start for the U.S. Tuesday, but entered the game against Mexico early in the second half as a sub. Martinez got the start for Honduras.)
In Martins’ case, his availability to play how his body handles the travel he has been through in the past couple of weeks. Martins, Seattle’s splashiest acquisition this season, flew from Spain, where he had been playing for Levante, to Seattle when that deal was completed two weeks ago. After making his Sounders debut off the bench against Portland, he went from Seattle to Nigeria for national team duty, and then on Tuesday he flew back to Seattle.
Odds are that not every one of those players will start Saturday, but even having some of them starting or available off the bench should help against Real Salt Lake. However, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid cautions that he won’t rush anyone into action, no matter how much his team could use a victory.
“It’s important that we are healthy, and it’s important that we’re playing well as we move forward into the season,” Schmid said. “And to try and rush somebody up because we’re panicking or something because we haven’t gotten a win yet, and then have him suffer an injury that takes him out for a long period of time makes no sense.”
After his first full practice with the team in two weeks, Evans agreed that it is far too soon for players to panic, and from what he saw, he doesn’t see that happening.
“Everybody’s bouncing back,” Evans said. “I think we take a look at the first three games, and obviously it’s not the way we wanted to start the season; no team wants to start that way. … It’s not time to panic, things like that. There comes a time where you losing a lot of games and it becomes chippy and practice doesn’t become fun any more. It becomes your backs are up against the wall, and we haven’t hit that point yet.”
For Joseph, watching from the sideline as his new team struggles has been tough. He hopes to get on the field Saturday, but like everyone else on his team, he doesn’t think the early struggles are indicative of what’s to come.
“Having started so slow, it’s kind of frustrating, but it’s a long season,” he said. “We’ve got to put that one behind us ? and look forward to this weekend. A lot of games left. We get everybody on the same page, get everybody practicing, get everybody competing, and once we start finding our identity there’s going to be good soccer to watch, because we’ve got great players on this team.”
The Sounders will be without starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning next week for the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal against Santo Laguna. Gspurning received his second yellow card of Champions League play during Seattle’s quarterfinal win over Tigres, which earned him a one-game suspension.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.