As the long MLS season moves into its middle third, depth becomes increasingly important.
Full rosters won’t be available to either the Columbus Crew or Seattle Sounders FC tonight when they meet at Qwest Field. And each team’s ability to compensate for missing players could go a long way in determining the outcome.
“I think we have options at every position even now with the injuries we have,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said Friday. “We still have to decide this guy or that guy, and that’s a good situation to be in.”
Sounders midfielder Brad Evans is among the players whose availability remains uncertain due to two separate left leg injuries. And after playing the last two seasons in Columbus, he admits he’s especially eager to be cleared.
“You always want to play against guys that you’ve been with for two years, for sure – kind of show them what we’ve got here,” he said. “So it’s definitely a motivation factor, for sure. It might help the healing process.”
Evans played 30 games in the Crew’s championship 2008 season. Yet, he was made available to Seattle in the expansion draft.
“It was just a weird couple of days,” Evans said. “We won on Sunday, then flew home on Monday, then it was announced on Wednesday (that I wouldn’t be protected). It kind of came as a surprise, but they have team meetings and they explain why. You have some international players that have to be protected, and they’re trying to keep the best core that they can together. It was kind of between a couple of guys. I’m extremely happy to be here, that’s for sure.”
Evans’ availability is only one uncertainty in what looks to be another reworked Seattle lineup.
Freddie Ljungberg is expected to return after missing two weeks because of migraines.
However, defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso and defenders Zach Scott and Taylor Graham are out. Schmid said that Peter Vagenas or Stephen King could step in in the midfield or that defenders Patrick Ianni or Nathan Sturgis could move up from the back.
Meanwhile, Columbus also received its dose of midfield disruption as Brian Carroll suffered what was called a severe separation of his right shoulder in a victory over San Jose on Wednesday. Carroll will miss at least two weeks, but that was relatively good news as season-ending surgery had been feared.
His absence is a rare thing for the Crew as he played 2,692 out of 2,700 minutes last season and had played every minute of this season before the injury.
“He’s kind of like the heart and soul of this team,” Columbus midfielder Robbie Rogers told MLSnet.com. “We have guys ready to step up. Everyone else on the field is going to have to step up as well, but we can do it.”
Injuries have been one of the themes of what has so far been a disappointing season for the defending champions. Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Eddie Gaven and Emmanuel Ekpo are the only regulars to have been available for every game.
That’s one reason Sounders assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson believes the Crew may be better than its 2-2-6 record indicates.
“Even though they haven’t won many games this year, they’ve played decent football,” said Hendrickson, who also played for the Crew last season. “Don’t take anything away from them – we’re not going to take them lightly. We need to win. We’re at home, and ... we want to make Qwest Field a fortress where teams come here and they just know they’re not going to go away with any points. We started off the season that way and we need to get back to that.”
Seattle has the opportunity to gain six points on Western Conference leader Chivas USA over the next eight days. Chivas lost Thursday to Eastern leader Chicago, and the Sounders visit Chivas for a head-to-head showdown next weekend.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
SOUNDERS FC GAMEDAY
COLUMBUS CREW (2-2-6; 12 pts.) AT SEATTLE sounders fc (4-2-4; 16 pts.)
When: 7:30 p.m., Qwest Field.
TV: FSC/FSE. Radio: 97.3-FM, and in Spanish on 1210-AM.
Head to head: This is the first meeting. The Sounders will visit Columbus on Oct. 3.
Statistical leaders: For Columbus, G 6 Guillermo Barros Schelotto; A 3 Emmanuel Ekpo; Sh 19 Schelotto/Ekpo; SOG 10 Eddie Gaven. For Seattle, G 4 Fredy Montero; A 4 Nate Jaqua; Sh 25 Montero; SOG 8 Steve Zakuani.
Coach Sigi Schmid scouting report: “They haven’t always gotten the results that they wanted this year, but they’re a dangerous team. There’s good speed on the flanks with Ekpo and (Robbie) Rogers. (Schelotto) is a player who lives for big games, lives for big moments. When he comes on the field he’ll be motivated. (Alejandro) Moreno plays very, very hard. ... Their midfield right now is in a little bit of flux with (Brian) Carroll being hurt, but they have enough bodies there. Chad Marshall is very, very dangerous on set pieces, so we’ve got to be aware of that as well.”
Notes: Columbus is the defending MLS Cup and Supporters Shield champion, a double won last season under Schmid. ... Seattle has played four straight league draws, while Columbus has won two of its last three and hasn’t lost since April 5. ... Schelotto, who won the league MVP award last season, is tied for the league lead in goals. Seattle’s Kasey Keller has moved back into the MLS goalkeeping lead, with a 0.60 goals-against average. ... Both teams have scored 14 goals. However, Columbus has allowed 16, twice as many as Seattle. These teams are 1-2 in MLS in first-half goals (Sounders, 9; Columbus, 8.) ... Seattle is 3-1-1 at home, Columbus is 0-2-3 on the road. ... The game is sold out.
Next: 7:30 p.m. June 6, at Chivas USA; Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune