Players of all ages and experiences use the MLS Reserve League to help them prepare to take the field at any given moment in the regular season. Here is a brief look at how the Sounders have used the league to their advantage since it returned to Major League Soccer in 2011.
Whenever Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid has to turn to his bench to replace players in the starting lineup, he wants that player to be able to fill in without the team missing a beat.
Players can get a lot out of training sessions and extra work that they do on their own to help them prepare for those occasions, but one tool that Schmid has been able to use to ensure that those bench players are able to perform up to those standards when they are called upon is the MLS Reserve League.
Disbanded after the 2008 season, the MLS Reserve League returned in 2011 and the Sounders have used it in many different ways along the way.
One valuable opportunity it has given them is the chance to ease players back from injuries. Already this year they have done that with Patrick Ianni and David Estrada and last year Steve Zakuani made a pair of Reserve League appearances before returning to the pitch for the Sounders FC after missing over a year of action due to injury.
They have used it to scout potential additions to the team, giving trials to Sounders hopefuls who have come in to train, as well as Sounders FC Academy players before they head off to college. Last year, that meant fans got a chance to see former Chelsea and FC Barcelona striker Eidur Gudjohnsen in a Seattle uniform, though the club did not reach an agreement with him in the end.
They have also utilized it to get game experience for young players who are unable to get playing time in MLS regular season matches, getting them on the field against other professionals who are also fighting for playing time.
One such example is Servando Carrasco.
The 2011 2nd round MLS SuperDraft selection has been playing behind Osvaldo Alonso for all of his professional career, but thanks to the MLS Reserve League, he has been ready to step into action on the rare occasion that Alonso is not available. That has meant 10 starts for the 24-year-old midfielder and the Sounders have gone 4-2-4 in those matches.
“You can’t really replicate what you do in a game. So having those reserve games and then jumping to the first team game has been vital,” Carrasco said. “The more we have reserve games and have guys continuously playing, it’s an opportunity to apply what you have been learning in training and at the end of the day it’s an opportunity to show the coaches that you are ready to step in to a first team game.”
While the impression of the Reserve League may be of a group of guys going through the motions to stay match fit without much riding on wins and losses, it couldn’t be further from the truth for some.
In 2011, the Sounders had a group of veteran players that often played in the Reserve League and they finished the year with an 8-1-1 record – a source of pride to the team and reserve team head coach Ezra Hendrickson. While the lineups have continued to include veterans, it has also featured many young players too and last year they finished just 4-5-1, but the intensity never left the team.
“The intensity is high. Zach Scott’s message before every game is that this is an opportunity – to take advantage of it,” Carrasco said. “At the end of the day, how you play in those games will dictate whether you step into an MLS game or a US Open Cup game. I think that’s been the message from top to bottom. You’re playing because coaches think you can play. At that point it’s up to the players to show that they can play. I’m grateful for the opportunity and always looking for a way to improve.”
The Sounders will meet Orlando City SC in a Reserve League match at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium on Sunday. Tickets are available for the match by calling 800-745-3000 or by clicking here. Kickoff is slated for 4 pm PT.