When the Seattle Sounders welcome Mexico’s Club Necaxa to CenturyLink Field on Saturday (7 p.m. PT; JOEtv, ROOT Sports outside Seattle, KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS), the Sounders will sport a much different lineup than the one they rolled out last week in their 3-1 home-opening win over the New York Red Bulls.
With five players away on international duty and a non-MLS match during the FIFA break, head coach Brian Schmetzer plans on employing completely different personnel, most notably younger players and those who have not seen the field much during the first three games of the 2017 MLS regular season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three Sounders who have the most to gain this weekend:
One of the most promising young Sounders, Wingo impressed all preseason and earned three consecutive substitute appearances to start the regular season. He has incredible pace, is deceptively creative and his confidence on the ball belies his youth. It’s unclear where exactly Wingo will line up on Saturday — he’s played on the wing in the regular season, spent time as a No. 6 in preseason and he could also potentially start at right back given his versatility and the dearth of options currently available — but wherever he does play could give the coaching staff all the more reasons to keep him on the pitch.
Schmetzer said earlier this week that the friendly against Necaxa would be a good chance for Wingo to earn his first 90 minutes, after playing just 24 total in his three appearances. Should he play well against Liga MX competition, he may force Schmetzer to think twice before leaving him out of the Starting XI moving forward in MLS play.
“In a friendly like this,” Wingo said, “for me to get my feet underneath me and gain confidence and getting used to play at CenturyLink would be great.”
There are opportunities aplenty against Necaxa for Alfaro to make an impression. The second-year center back played in just six games last year — his last competitive match came on Oct. 12 in a start against the Houston Dynamo — and has yet to see the field in 2017, but Saturday could go a long way in changing that.
Schmetzer opted to start the more experienced albeit out-of-position Gustav Svensson at center back last week against the Red Bulls while regular starter Roman Torres served a one-game suspension. Oniel Fisher earned his first minutes at right back and pushed Svensson, who was also covering at fullback, into the middle next to Chad Marshall.
Saturday’s friendly is a chance for Alfaro to prove he can do his job and make a difference defensively. He has good size and decent feet for a CB, but he just needs to rack up more experience. Trying to slow down Necaxa’s talented forward Edson Puch should expedite that process.
“It’s a good opportunity to show my skills and show my potential and gain the trust of our coaching staff,” Alfaro said. “I just want to get some minutes in and show them that I can go out there and get the job done.”
One of the last first-team signings before the start of the season, Mathers joins the squad after spending 2016 with S2. A second-year pro, Mathers is a box-to-box midfielder out of Duke who scored 14 goals and added 18 assists in his four years with the ACC powerhouse. He trained with the first team all through preseason and has become visibly more comfortable on the ball.
Mathers has yet to see the field this year, but with such a short depth chart, Seattle will need to rely on him as it gets deeper into the dog days of the season. He’ll need to perform well against a Mexican side that will make the Sounders’ midfield work defensively as well as stay disciplined when Seattle is in possession. Mathers had a chance to play in the Sounders’ scrimmage against West Ham last year, and a positive shift on Saturday could very well turn into two or three in the coming matches.
“I want to prove to the coaches that I belong here and I can do well when put into games,” Mathers said. “I have to show them that they made a good decision in signing me, so going out there and performing at my top is going to be very important.”