When a team goes through as much flux as the Sounders FC has in the first nine matches of the Major League Soccer season, lineup selection can be a difficult equation.
Now preparing for their 10th match of the regular season, a home tilt on Saturday against the league-leading FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid will be faced with more questions as Obafemi Martins and Shalrie Joseph return from injury while their replacements Lamar Neagle and Servando Carrasco played well enough to lead the Sounders to a 2-0-1 record in three matches over eight days last week.
So how will Schmid determine how to divvy up the minutes in another important match on Saturday?
“If I knew the magic formula it would be easy,” he smiled as the Sounders returned to training on Wednesday after two days off. “I could bottle it and I could write a book and I could make a million dollars.”
It’s not nearly as simple of a proposition as just plugging two Designated Players and established stars back into the lineup, especially when the two reserves exceeded expectations in filling in for the two stars.
Neagle brought a unique level of passion to the field in the two matches that he played in and had a breakthrough game on Saturday with two goals in a 4-0 win over the Earthquakes. He has shown a propensity for scoring in the past with five goals for the Sounders in 2011, showing a flare for the dramatic with game-winning goals on the road against two tough opponents in Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City. His two goals against San Jose were his first goals of the season, but his off-the-ball activity and athleticism have proved troublesome for opposing defenses.
He also has started in four of Seattle’s five matches on their current unbeaten streak, missing the game in Kansas City while serving a red card suspension.
Carrasco, meanwhile, started all three matches in that harrowing stretch last week, appearing in the starting lineup as many times in eight days as he had in Seattle’s previous 50 matches dating back to 2011. In the final two matches, he paired masterfully with Osvaldo Alonso, allowing the MLS Best XI midfielder to get forward at times while Carrasco held down the defensive responsibilities in the middle of the pitch.
“We have to remember guys who helped us through this phase, guys who are playing well right now. It’s all about putting guys on the field who are playing well. But on the same token, you don’t want to punish guys because they were off the field because of injuries,” Schmid said. “We just have to make sure that we put the guys out there that we think are the best 11 playing at the time and the best group of 11.”
For his part, Martins showed clips of brilliance himself and got on the scoreboard for the second straight match that he appeared in when he sprung on a misplayed clearance and put it away for the stoppage-time goal against San Jose.
Joseph was available for Schmid off the bench on Saturday, but did not appear. However, he did get in 90 minutes in a reserve league match against Orlando City SC and, though rusty, showed that he is ready to get back in with the first team.
Schmid will utilize training sessions on Thursday and Friday to determine who is healthy and fit enough to play on Saturday, but it’s looking like his decisions will be more plentiful than they had been in previous weeks when the Sounders were riddled with injuries.
“You see how things pan out in practice and from an injury standpoint and you make the decisions that feel right, at the end of the day,” he said.
Kickoff in Saturday’s match is at 7:30 p.m. PT with television coverage on KING 5 and the radio broadcast on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM.