The Seattle Sounders could introduce three new players to their lineup Sunday, while also welcoming back Obafemi Martins from a two-month absence, all as Brad Evans reorients himself to another new position.
That’s a lot of moving parts for a team heading into the final 10 games of its Major League Soccer season while dangerously flirting with the playoff red line.
“It’s forced cohesion at this point,” Evans said. “It’s a bit like the national team, I guess: You bring guys in at a certain time and expect them to play at a top level. We’re all good enough pros to know that when you come in, the game remains the game. Sometimes formations are different and players are different. Does it take time? Yeah, of course. But at the same time, I think we’re all professional enough to put in the work.”
The club seems confident that the changes are upgrades. Expected to make their Sounders’ debuts are forward Nelson Valdez, arriving from the German Bundesliga; midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz, arriving from Spain’s La Liga; and central defender Roman Torres, arriving from the Panama national team.
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“This whole week of training has helped,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said Friday. “A lot of guys adjusting time zones and things like that. Torres, he only got here on Tuesday so he’s had two training sessions — probably the newest guy in terms of settling in. Ivanschitz is settling in also. We’re happy with all that.”
The team also is happy about the expected return of Martins, who remains a club co-leader with seven goals despite not appearing in a league match since June 13. He suffered a leg injury in the U.S. Open Cup loss to Portland, but trained fully last week, and pregame indications point to his return.
Evans’ shift fits a couple of needs: opening a spot in the central defense for Torres, while also patching the defensive midfield hole created by Osvaldo Alonso’s hamstring injury.
Evans had moved from midfield to defense at the start of this season, and asked only that he be allowed to remain there for the entire season. However, as team captain, he dutifully relented when Schmid approached him about another shift.
“Always later in your career, you’d like to settle into one position,” Evans said. “But the reality is the team needs what the team needs right now. I’ll move in there and play it as I should and go from there.”
If it’s any consolation for the Sounders, their opponent this weekend is Orlando City, an expansion team that knows a thing or two about trying to develop cohesion on the fly.
The Lions got off to an encouraging 1-0-1 start with an opening draw against expansion brother New York City FC and their inaugural MLS win over Houston. However, they come into this match with a 7-10-7 overall record and one win over their last seven games.
Their goalkeeper is South Sound native Tally Hall, who played at Gig Harbor High School. But their primary calling cards are on the attack: Brazilian designated player Kaka, the 2007 FIFA world player of the year who leads the club with four assists; and former No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Cyle Larin, a 6-foot-2 forward who leads the Lions with 11 goals.
“As a first-year club, I think they’ve done tremendous,” Evans said. “They’ve obviously built a fortress at home. Liken to what we did the first year, I think they’ll probably find themselves in the playoffs if they can get everybody healthy and raring to go. Obviously up top with Larin, he’s having a phenomenal year. Kaka brings a different dimension to anybody’s team: so shifty and experienced. With the two defensive midfielders, they like to shut it down and keep the ball wide with (Aurelien) Collin in the back; he’s a stalwart in the air. We’ve got to be good with our passes and finding gaps and stick to our guns.”
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SEATTLE SOUNDERS (10-12-2; 32 POINTS)
VS. ORLANDO CITY SC (7-10-7; 28 POINTS)
2 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 97.3-FM.
Head to head: First meeting.
Notes: This game could mark the MLS debut of three Sounders signed during the summer transfer window: forward Nelson Valdez, midfielder Andres Ivanschitz and defender Roman Torres. … Forward Obafemi Martins could return for the first time since suffering a leg injury in mid-June. However, forwards Clint Dempsey and Chad Barrett and midfielder Osvaldo Alonso all remain out with hamstring injuries. … Seattle has lost a club-record five consecutive games and eight of its past nine. Orlando City is 1-4-2 over its past seven. … Seattle is 7-4-1 at home. Orlando is 3-5-3 on the road and 4-1-2 against Western Conference teams. … Seattle is 2-1-2 in first meetings with expansion teams, including a 3-1 win at New York City FC in May. … The Lions are led by forward Cyle Larin (11 goals) and designated player Kaka (nine goals, four assists). The starting goalkeeper is Tally Hall, from Renton and Gig Harbor High School. Two former Sounders are on the Orlando roster: midfielder Servando Carrasco (2011-13) and goalkeeper Josh Ford (2011-14). … Kevin Stott will be the referee.
Quote: “They’ve done a good job holding onto the ball, playing good possession. They’ve got a couple of hard-working midfielders in (Eric) Avila and (Darwin) Ceren, and they’ve added Carrasco into that mix now. Kaka is kind of the hub of the wheel — makes their juices flow. They’ve got a striker who’s big and strong in Larin. The inconsistency for them has been in the back, because they’ve played a number of different groups.” — Seattle coach Sigi Schmid on Orlando.
Next: The Sounders return to CONCACAF Champions League play at 7 p.m. Wednesday when Olimpia of Honduras visits CenturyLink Field. Seattle’s next MLS match is 7 p.m. Saturday at Real Salt Lake.