The Sounders are still haven’t assembled a healthy defensive lineup, something they have sorely needed in a stretch that has seen them get four points from their past five matches.
Even Humpty Dumpty would offer Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer his sympathies for Seattle’s dreary 2-5-4 start to the season, second-worst in MLS. Absent healthy defenders, Schmetzer has been forced to field eight backfield lineups filled with second and third-choice options, with predictable results.
The Sounders have conceded 11 goals in the past four games, but it is still too early to pull the curtains closed on a team that hasn’t fielded its desired starting 11 almost a third of the way into the season.
Saturday’s contest against Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink (2 p.m., JOEtv) still won’t witness a full-strength Sounders team. Seattle’s locker room has resembled a triage unit, with nagging injuries hindering center backs Chad Marshall and Roman Torres and right back Brad Evans.
Joevin Jones, who had been the only point of consistency at left back, added to the disjointedness late in a 4-1 loss to Chicago May 13, picking up two yellow cards in the final three minutes and earning a one-match suspension for the game Wednesday at Sporting Kansas City, which turned into a 3-0 rout.
Even backups have been hit with injuries. Oniel Fisher has struggled with hamstring problems, while left back Nohou Tolo, freshly signed to a first team contract after playing with S2 last season, dislocated his shoulder while contesting a corner kick with the reserve team in April and has only recently convalesced.
The revolving door at the back has been an aggravation.
“Getting a consistent lineup at the back has been the challenge,” Schmetzer said Friday. “I don’t have decisions. Every (lineup change) has been injury-related. It’s been tough.”
Schmetzer is quick to evoke the “next man up” mantra when asked about expectations. But the financial constraints of MLS’s roster rules mean that quality depth is often sacrificed, doubly so in regards to defenders.
Two of Seattle’s frequent starting defenders, Gustav Svensson and Jordy Delem, were signed as midfielders. Holding midfielder Cristian Roldan was slotted in at right back in the loss to Kansas City.
The ragtag assembly might not excuse Seattle’s slippery start, but it does explain it. The players called upon to shoulder the burden of Torres, captain of the Panamanian national team, and Marshall, three-time MLS Defender of the Year, haven’t been ready.
The bright spot for Schmetzer’s team is that if it can string together a half-dozen games where four starting defenders are healthy at the same time, they may be able to find the momentum that swept them to a title in 2016.
Saturday will not be that day. Torres is still likely unavailable, while defensive midfielder and team captain Osvaldo Alonso is also questionable after sitting out
Wednesday with tightness in a quad. Evans, who has subbed on in the past two matches, may not be fit enough to run for 90 minutes, even if he makes his first start of the season against RSL.
Evans described Saturday’s contest as a “must-win,” but Schmetzer took a look at the broader picture.
“It’s too early (to call Saturday a must-win) for my sake; it is for (Evans) because he wants to come back and help the team,” Schmetzer said. “It’s frustrating for him because he’s such a team guy and he hasn’t been able to help and he’s a little more emotional about it. For me, if we perform up to our abilities, we will get results.
“None of us likes the record we have, but it’s the reality. We’re trying to work through it. I couldn’t say how far away we are, because nothing’s settled until that mathematical outcome where we’re out or in. The guys are determined and they won’t quit.”