Throughout the 2012 season, Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid has mastered the art of squad rotation.
In 31 MLS regular season matches this year, he has used 28 different lineups and only started the same 11 in consecutive matches on two different occasions. He has started 25 different players in MLS play alone with 20 different players registering at least one goal or assist.
After starting the same lineup in a draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps and a victory over the Portland Timbers, it looks like Schmid may need to make more adjustments on Wednesday when the Sounders face Real Salt Lake in a meeting of the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the Western Conference.
“It is hard when you have to change a few teammates because every game you know how they play,” said forward Fredy Montero, who is unlikely to have his normal strike partner in Eddie Johnson as Johnson is set to play in a World Cup qualifying match against Guatemala on Tuesday. “We want to win this game and it doesn’t matter that we don’t have the same 11 guys we’ve had the last three or four games. All that matters is going to the field and trying to play good to get the three points.”
While Johnson leaves a hole at the forward position, the defense is where the Sounders have been hit the hardest this week.
Left back Leo Gonzalez left the 3-0 win over Portland with a hamstring strain, while center back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado finished out the match after a collision with Bright Dike that left Hurtado with a facial fracture. Hurtado’s availability on Wednesday is so far unclear. However, right back Adam Johansson will miss the match because he is away with the Swedish National Team playing in 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches, including one on Tuesday against Germany.
That is not of great concern to goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who will be facing RSL for the first time after missing the previous two matches with a hip injury that kept him sidelined for 13 matches.
“It’s always something new when there are changes in the lineup. Sometimes it works better and sometimes it works worse,” Gspurning shrugged. “With my guys in front of me, I’m not scared of anything.”
The absence of Johansson leaves an opening in the starting lineup for Zach Scott, who has career highs with 18 appearances, 15 starts and 1,368 minutes. In five of his first six starts this season, the Sounders posted shutouts, though he has not started an MLS match since a 2-1 win over Chivas USA on September 8.
“During the beginning of the season, there were a lot of injuries and we were able to tap into that and did pretty well,” Scott said. “We’re going to tap into that depth again and I think everybody’s ready.”
Similarly, Real Salt Lake will have several players coming back from international duty. Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando will be with the US with Johnson. Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborio is slated to play Guyana on Tuesday and midfielder Will Johnson is also set to face Honduras with Canada.
Shuffling the lineup against RSL is nothing new for Seattle either. The Sounders have yet to face Real Salt Lake with a full first-choice lineup yet, with Gspurning and Brad Evans missing out on the 1-0 loss at CenturyLink Field and Gspurning and Osvaldo Alonso absent in the scoreless draw at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“What I’ve found over the years is you just can’t worry about that,” Schmid said. “At the end of the day, they’re going to submit their lineup sheet and you’ve got to play against those guys.”Kickoff on Wednesday is scheduled for 7 pm Pacific Time, with national television coverage on NBC Sports. The match will also be broadcast locally on KONG 6/16 and Root Sports.