When it rains – like it did at Qwest Field when the Sounders FC met the Portland Timbers on Saturday – it pours.
That’s how Sigi Schmid felt about the club’s injury situation over the past several weeks.
Ever since Steve Zakuani suffered a fractured tibia and fibula in his right leg on April 22 against the Colorado Rapids, the Sounders have lost O’Brian White indefinitely to a blood clot in his leg, Mauro Rosales to a hamstring strain (twice), Brad Evans to a quad strain and Erik Friberg to an ankle sprain. And that was before losing Evans again to a groin strain during Saturday’s match with the Timbers.
That has created a challenge to Schmid and the Sounders, not because of the vast quantity of injuries, but because they have all come in the attacking portion of the field.
Amidst a congested portion of their schedule, the Sounders have found themselves altering their style of play to fit their ever-changing personnel.
“The main change is that when you have Steve Zakuani, you have a winger who is very good at it. We’ve formed our midfield in a way that you can play with a winger. It’s really been a 4-4-2 with two wingers and we can have one forward drop off a little more. We’ve played that way and our wingers have stretched the defense,” Schmid said. “So without Steve we really don’t have that same type of winger. We don’t have that same ability to stretch the defense in the wide channels. So now we have to look more at stretching the defense centrally and creating our width a little bit differently.”
Schmid has used Nate Jaqua and Roger Levesque in place of White alongside Fredy Montero at forward and a combination of Alvaro Fernandez, Servando Carrasco and Levesque in the midfield, with just Osvaldo Alonso being constant. In a fill-in roll, Carrasco was named to the MLS Team of the Week after a 1-1 draw against the Columbus Crew. Fernandez earned the same honor with a goal against the Timbers.
While the club touts its depth, the mass of loss at the front end has posed a bigger challenge. Still, Schmid is confident the team can adjust in the long-term.
“It makes it more difficult but we also have more squad members than we had last year so that’s there,” he said. “We still have some options where we could maybe take a hold of as we get to the next transfer period because obviously if you have cap room you can replace injured players if they are out for the season or while they are on the disabled list, so that’s always a possibility.”
In Levesque, he has a uniquely versatile player that can fill multiple rolls and play extended minutes because of a strong cardiovascular system. A forward by trade, he started the season as a right back to help fill a need for depth in the defense. With the injuries, he has returned to his more traditional role as a forward and gotten some time in the midfield, as well. Saturday, he came off the bench for Evans in the midfield after Evans left the match injured. Later, he moved to forward when Lamar Neagle subbed on for Jaqua.
“Roger’s a unique guy. He’s just ready to play,” Schmid said. “Wherever you throw him out there, he’s going to roll up his sleeves and you know you’re going to get a tremendous effort from him. He’s a little bit streaky where he goes hot and cold, but right now he’s in a pretty good vein of form.”
Schmid will likely have to continue to use his bench this week, but he may also get two or more of his players back from the training room.
Rosales went through the full training Wednesday and said afterward that he felt about 90 percent. Friberg went through the warmup and played as a neutral player in the contact portion of training and Evans had a slightly lesser role in training. Much more will be determined after the team trains at Qwest Field on Thursday.
The Sounders face Sporting Kansas City at 7 pm at Qwest Field on Saturday night in the first of a stretch of three matches in eight days. They will face FC Dallas May 25 at Qwest Field and finish the week with a road match against Real Salt Lake on May 28.