Through training camp, indications were that Jalil Anibaba was in tight competition for a starting central back spot with the Seattle Sounders FC.
However, when he finished third in a race for two starting spots, there was no consolation prize of key reserve minutes. Sounders coach Sigi Schmid likes his central backs to play the full 90 minutes, so Anibaba watched from the bench through Seattle’s first three games – and he was back there Saturday for the start of the fourth.
Then incumbent starting central defender Djimi Traore was shown a red card, and Anibaba was sent in for his Sounders debut in what turned out to be a 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew.
“Obviously the most important thing was to keep points, and unfortunately we dropped some,” Anibaba said Tuesday. “But we’re ready to bounce back, and I think we started off on a good foot with (a) good training today.”
Anibaba was on the pitch for the game’s final 30 minutes, including those last seconds when the Sounders’ defense was caught flat-footed on a corner kick that resulted in Justin Meram’s game-winning goal.
“The play started out obviously with most of us having our back to goal, and it was a bit unexpected,” Anibaba said. “But like I said, we’re looking forward to this weekend, and we’re ready to bounce back.”
Traore’s red card means he will be ineligible Saturday when the Sounders return to action in Portland.
On Tuesday, Schmid expressed confidence in Anibaba, who started 94 games in three seasons at Chicago before being traded to Seattle in January. However, Schmid stopped short of declaring him the new starter.
“We’re very confident with his ability to play there,” Schmid said. “We’ve got Zach Scott as another alternative who’s played a number of games for us back there as well. So we’re very confident with either option, and Jalil is an experienced player in this league. That’s something that we’ll sort away this week.”
That’s not the only issue the Sounders will have to settle.
They remain unsure of the status of midfielder Brad Evans, who has missed the past two matches with a calf injury serious enough to also rule him out of the United States national team friendly against Mexico on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Sounders midfielder Clint Dempsey and defender DeAndre Yedlin are in Glendale, Ariz., for that game, and their availability for Portland could be affected by the minutes they play for the U.S. squad.
The Timbers also seem to be heading into the Cascadia Cup match while facing significant alternations to their first-choice lineup.
Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and defender Michael Harrington are both ineligible due to disciplinary suspension, although Harrington is appealing the red card he received Saturday at Dallas. Coach Caleb Porter said his team also is preparing to play without forward Darlington Nagbe, who suffered an apparent hamstring injury last weekend. Former Seattle midfielder Steve Zakuani is listed as day-to-day with a hamstring injury.
The Sounders are off Wednesday before returning to training Thursday. Forward Kenny Cooper was part of a group of Seahawks and Sounders who on Monday visited the community of Darrington near the site of the Oso mudslide that resulted in the deaths of at least 27 people. “It was something really special to be able to go out there,” Cooper said, “and hopefully the kids felt encouraged and happy for a little bit.”email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt