Sounders depth to be tested against San Jose
Posted by: Matt Gaschk
The club will be without three of its offensive weapons when it travels to Northern California later this week.A World Cup qualifying year provides an interesting dichotomy around Major League Soccer, where teams around the league are finding that their best players are currently darting to various points around the world to join their national teams for what are for some pivotal matches in the qualifying cycle.
The Sounders FC is no exception, with three very crucial players off for international duty this week.
With Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins and Mario Martinez all unavailable for the team’s first road match of the season against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, head coach Sigi Schmid is left re-organizing his roster to compensate for the lost attacking options.
“It’s good that national teams want our guys. The timing, right now, isn’t good for us because we’re at the start of the season, we’re trying to find ourselves and we finally got the whole group together. So some training time would have been nice. It’s tough when you lose players all in the same area of the field. That makes it a little bit harder,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Every team has to go through it, to a certain extent. We’ll go through it and we’ll get through it.”
At the forward spots, where Johnson has emerged as the club’s top scorer since joining the team last year and Martins is bound to provide even more scoring punch when he integrates with the team, Schmid has Sammy Ochoa and David Estrada readily available.
Estrada started off the 2012 season strong, scoring the first goal in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals against Santos Laguna, adding a hat trick in the MLS opener against Toronto FC and finishing with five goals over the first 13 matches. However, he has yet to see a competitive minute of action and played just 45 minutes on Sunday in an MLS Reserve League match against the Portland Timbers reserves.
Ochoa has provided solid forward depth since signing in 2011, occasionally spelling Johnson and Fredy Montero in two previous seasons. He started the match against Portland on Saturday and has three goals in 15 career MLS matches, but really proved his value in outside competitions, scoring seven goals in eight matches in the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League last year.
First round SuperDraft pick Eriq Zavaleta has also moved into the conversation after showing improvements in training over the past few weeks. Originally slated to be a center back, Zavaleta has moved back to the forward position he played in college after the Sounders signed Djimi Traore to man the center back position. He played over 70 minutes as a forward in the Reserve League match on Sunday.
Mauro Rosales has also been slotted as a forward, though he has enjoyed the most individual success as the right midfielder. Like Estrada, Rosales is recovering from an injury and may be limited on Saturday.
Brad Evans is also an option at the right side of midfield if he is healthy enough to play. The multi-purpose midfielder and occasional defender suffered a calf strain against Tigres in the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal series and was unavailable against Portland on Saturday.
If any of Estrada, Rosales and Evans can’t start on Saturday, then two other players who have emerged as options are Lamar Neagle and Alex Caskey.
Schmid has mentioned Neagle as an option at forward, though he has seen most of his playing time in the midfield through his career. Caskey has appeared off the bench in both of Seattle’s first two MLS matches, but could be thrust into the starting lineup against the Earthquakes.
“There’s different options,” Schmid said. “We’ll figure it out this week.”