The Sounders FC lineup has been an endless shuffle of players in and out of the starting 11 because of injury or suspension. Even still, they remain amongst the best Major League Soccer has to offer.
Through 21 games this season, they have only once started the same lineup for two straight matches and that was back on May 2 in the seventh game of the season. Yet they have maintained enough balance for an 8-5-8 record, good for second in the MLS Western Conference.
And one thing is assured in Thursday night’s meeting with the New England Revolution at 7 pm at Qwest Field – that string of musical chairs in the starting lineup will continue. Defender Tyrone Marshall will serve a one-game suspension after a red card in Seattle’s 2-0 win over the LA Galaxy Saturday. Additionally, Freddie Ljungberg remains unavailable after experiencing disorientation and memory loss prior to that game.
Ljungberg underwent some tests on Tuesday to eliminate certain possibilities, though the prolonged spell is not believed to be related to migraine headaches that kept him out of three previous games this season.
“We want to make sure there is not a reoccurrence,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Right now, we are just following a very precautious procedure.”
Ljungberg, when healthy, has been a proven force for the Sounders. With two goals and five assists to his credit, his contribution has extended far beyond statistics. He creates open space for his teammates with his deft ball-handling, frequently drawing double- and triple-teams.
When he is out of the lineup, the midfield takes on a different look.
“It changes the dynamic of our team when he is on the field. He draws the attention of the opponent and he has the ability to run at people with the ball at speed which is very reminiscent of what Peter Novak did in his early years at Chicago. But, it also changes our balance a little bit,” Schmid said. “We are sometimes able to play with a little better balance in terms of defensive and offensive balance when he is possibly not on the field. So, those are the things we always weigh as we go into games.”
While some players have been in and out of the lineup because of injuries, no team in the league has been hit harder with discipline. Seattle has had eight red-card ejections and another player miss action because of yellow-card accumulation. This despite being, by far, the most fouled team in the league. But the Sounders have been resilient in the face of that adversity.
“From game-to-game our team changes for one reason or another. We’ve learned to play with different guys and we all train at the same intensity. If a player like Freddie is missing, someone has to step in and do the job, so you see a team effort,” said rookie midfielder Steve Zakuani. “We hope to welcome him back soon, but it’s a case where if one player is missing someone else brings the same intensity with their own style and does a good job.”
Added goalkeeper Kasey Keller, “I’ve been proud that guys have stepped in and performed well, which shows to the level of our squad. At the same time you want to be able to have that cohesiveness and have the same team on the field more often than not.”
Keller and Nate Jaqua have started 20 games each and performed at the high levels you would expect from them. Fredy Montero and James Riley have both started 19 games and have also been key assets.
Seattle kicks off against the Revolution at 7 pm at Qwest Field before travelling to Houston to face the Dynamo on Sunday.