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Stepping up

The Sounders have had an open competition this week among the five defenders for an open starting spot.

The Sounders FC will be a man down when they face FC Dallas Saturday at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.  James Riley will serve his red-card suspension after being sent off in Seattle’s 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy on Sunday.  That leaves a hole in a Sounders defense that has allowed just five goals through the first eight games.

Head coach Sigi Schmid has several options that he can turn to in Riley’s absence, but isn’t offering many hints as to which direction he is leaning.

“We’ve had different guys who have played outside back.  Evan Brown is an option back there.  Tyson Wahl is an option as a left outside back.  Patrick Ianni is an option at right back as well,” Schmid said.  “You saw in the game we actually dropped (Brad) Evans back there to make it work in the game.  He can always drop back if we need it also.  We can also bring (Taylor) Graham outside and move Jhon Kennedy (Hurtado) outside.  So there’s different ways to look at it for us.  That’s something we’ll use this week to sort of decide.”

Another option is left back Zach Scott, who started the first five games until Nathan Sturgis returned from a hamstring injury.  Sturgis has been limited in training this week, but remains an option to switch to the right side if Scott or anyone else comes in on the left side.

“He’s tried a couple of different defensive changes in the reserve game and in practice.  But I’d like to think I’m the next defender coming back,” Scott said.

Outside of Scott, most of the players who could see action Saturday will see their first extended time in the season.  While that may pose a challenge, the depth of Seattle’s defense has created some stiff competition in reserve games and training.

“It’s tough to break into the lineup when your defense only gives up a couple of goals.  As a reserve you have to make sure you’re sharp and fit and ready to go at any moment,” Wahl said.  “I’m just making sure I’m mentally sharper.  We have a lot of defenders on our team and a lot of depth at most of the positions along the back line.”

Because of the opening in Saturday’s game, there has been an increased sense of competition amongst the defenders.

“You want to say you go into every training completely focused and ready to go for the weekend, but it’s inevitable that if you’re not starting you might be a little too relaxed,” Scott said.  “Knowing there is a distinct possibility of starting it’s about bearing down and watching video and making sure that if I do get the opportunity I’m completely ready to play.”

For the five defenders that aren’t in the starting lineup each week, the reserve games have provided both an outlet and an opportunity.  In the exhibition games, everyone in a Sounders uniform is fighting tooth and nail to be the next player to see the pitch with the first team.

“The results aren’t as important because the result on Saturday nights are the results that matter.  They’re meant to prove that you can start or play or stay on the team.  You can only prove so much on the practice field,” Wahl said.

Added Scott, “You get out of it what you put in.   If you come to the game focused and really seizing the opportunity to have the coaches watch you play in a 90 minute game, then you’ll get a lot out of it.  If you come in lackadaisical, then there’s a very distinct chance that you lose a shot or a tick in the coaches eyes because they see that even against inferior opponents you’re not coming to play.”

Kickoff is set for 5 pm PT on Saturday and the game can be seen on KONG 6/16.