Often the problem with a deep lineup is that starting caliber players find themselves on the bench, wanting the opportunity to play.
In Seattle, that meant Sigi Schmid had Fredy Montero, Nate Jaqua and Alvaro Fernandez available in a reserve role in a 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union on Saturday. Montero and Jaqua are returning from injury, but Fernandez was a result of Schmid making the decision to use Erik Friberg on the right wing instead of the Uruguayan World Cup midfielder.
It wasn’t a decision that Fernandez was excited about, but a meeting last week with Schmid drove Fernandez to elevate his game to a higher level and earn his playing time on Saturday. The meeting paid off for both sides, as Schmid saw what he wanted to see out of Fernandez on the field and Fernandez headed in the equalizing goal to give Seattle a point on the road in difficult circumstances.
“Nobody is ever happy losing their starting job. We talked and I tried to explain to him very succinctly what I was looking for and I think he understood it,” Schmid said. “He came out and brought that into training and I thought he brought the same thing into the game. It wasn’t just his header. I thought his activity level was good. He made a lot of good runs off the ball. He got back and defended. That’s a thing that he can do because he’s a skillful player with good size and he can help us out in the air, which he showed with that headed goal.”
Indeed, Fernandez nearly put the Sounders on the board minutes before his stoppage-time header evened the score. However, a 78th minute shot from the middle of the box by “El Flaco” was defended off the line by Union defender Danny Califf. The eventual goal proved to be the climax in a motivated effort by Fernandez in an energetic 12 minutes on the pitch at PPL Park.
“Nobody likes to sit on the bench, but I’ve been biding my time and working hard and waiting for my opportunity to get back in there and show what I can do,” Fernandez said on Tuesday. “I’m just working on being more aggressive. That’s what I was missing. I’m still doing what I’ve been doing, just more aggressive. The one thing was playing tougher on defense, so I just tried to focus on that a little bit more.”
Neither side discussed what was actually said in their meeting, but Fernandez laughed when it was suggested that there might be animosity between the player who came to Seattle after a run to the World Cup semifinals last season and the two-time MLS Cup-winning coach.
“I’ve never had a problem with Sigi or any of the coaches,” Fernandez said. “That doesn’t mean that I agree with the decisions that were made, but that is there job – to see the things from outside and let us know what we are supposed to do.”
Schmid explained that he moved Fernandez to the bench because of a dip in form that may have been related to effort – though Schmid was quick to say that he didn’t think Fernandez was intentionally playing an uninspired game.
“Sometimes players get into a funk where they think they are putting everything into it, but they might not be putting everything into it, so you have to wake them up from that,” Schmid said. “We talked about a number of different things, but the most important thing is that he responded well and came back with renewed energy, which is important.”
Now with Fernandez responding it offers the Sounders FC further options through the midfield. And with the versatility of current starters Erik Friberg, Brad Evans and Mauro Rosales, and the ability to use Montero, Jaqua, Rosales or O’Brian White at forward.
The depth is a welcome problem to have and may result in some roster rotation, particularly when the Sounders play three games in an eight-day stretch beginning next week with a home match against Toronto FC and finishing with road matches against DC United and the Columbus Crew.
“You have to look at who’s playing well and obviously if you have enough depth and enough players are playing well you could even rest some people along the way because it does get to be a strain playing the amount of games you have to play so you can keep the troops sharp and energetic. How’s it going to look this weekend? Who is going to play? Right now I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t really made up my mind,” Schmid said. “Is there a possibility that there will be some changes in every part of the field? Yes, very possible.”
Schmid and the Sounders will take on the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids on Friday night at 6:30 pm on Fox Soccer at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.