Almost a month has passed since the Seattle Sounders FC looked like itself.
Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans have been with the U.S. national team for World Cup qualifiers along with Mario Martinez, who has been playing with Honduras. And Osvaldo Alonso and Steve Zakuani have been sidelined with injuries.
Still, the Sounders have relied on their depth to win each of their past two MLS matches. That lineup, though, is about to change again.
On Tuesday, Alonso practiced for the first time since his quad injury on June 1 while Johnson, Evans and Martinez are expected to be back with the club Wednesday. Even Zakuani was walking around the practice field at the Starfire Sports Complex, despite having surgery for a sports hernia last week, though he is expected to need 6-8 weeks to recover.
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Seattle coach Sigi Schmid has himself a good problem for a pivotal match against Real Salt Lake on Saturday: Who to play?
“It gives me more gray hairs because I have to make more decisions,” Schmid said of many of his players getting back to the team. “You make one guy happy, you make another guy sad because you can obviously only put 11 on the field.”
Inserting marquee names back into the lineup would be much easier had the Sounders not received such great contributions from their replacements.
Servando Carrasco and Andy Rose have filled in well, as has Federal Way native Lamar Neagle. Neagle, who is tied for the team lead with four goals and three assists has already equaled his output from last season. He recorded two goals and two assists in all of 2012.
Not that their contributions wouldn’t prevent adding talented national-team talent back into the lineup, but Schmid said it means he will need to find some time for them whenever he can.
“This is also a good thing because it makes guys compete with each other, and that is going to raise their level of play,” he said. “Sometimes, when guys go to the bench, you see it in their next training outing that there is definitely an increased bounce in their step because nobody wants to sit on the bench.
“So from that standpoint, it’s a very good situation for us because it means we are in a competitive environment.”
Another benefit is it gives Schmid the option of easing Alonso back into the lineup. Alonso was limited in practice and is “uncertain” for Seattle’s match at Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
Obafemi Martins returned to practice for the first time since the bye weekend. Schmid extended the Nigerian forward’s summer vacation because he has been playing since September from his time with Spanish Club Levante. He took the break to go to Milan to be with his fiancé.
The Sounders bought Martins’ contract in March. His thoughts on MLS so far? It’s one of the best leagues, he says.
“When I talk to my friends back home about that, they don’t understand what is going on here,” Martins said. “They’re looking at the Spanish league, Italy and England, but they have to come and check it out here because the league is growing very, very fast.
“For me, I’m going to say the MLS league now is one of the best. The players who are not here have to come and try it and see how the fans are and how everything is going here.”
Eriq Zaveleta, the Sounders first round pick (10th overall) of the MLS SuperDraft, has been on loan with San Antonio. He is expected to rejoin the team on Sunday.