The Seattle Sounders will almost certainly be without Chad Marshall and Cristian Roldan when the Portland Timbers visit for Thursday night’s second leg in the Western Conference semi-finals. How they deal with these injuries, as well as the Portland counter, will be critical.
It is crunch time in MLS. The playoffs are here. And for the Seattle Sounders, that means that an injury crisis is just around the corner.
And yes, this year, like seemingly every other year, the Sounders are crocked.
In the first leg of their Western Conference semi-final against the Portland Timbers, the Sounders lost two key players to injury: Chad Marshall, who has since undergone surgery for a meniscus injury in his knee, and Cristian Roldan, the midfielder being officially classed as ‘day-to-day’ but is being spoken about as if he will not be available for selection in the second leg. Both absences will be hard felt.
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Thankfully for the Sounders, they have better depth than most teams. Roman Torres, a World Cup defender who has extensive experience, for instance, will replace Marshall at the heart of the Seattle defence. But Brian Schmelzer, while praising the performance of Torres in the first leg, did concede that the Panama international and his new centre-back partner, Kim Kee-Hee have little relationship and understanding:
"“Roman came in [on Sunday] and did a good job. I enjoyed the fact he came on and brought a bit of physicality to the game, in a good way. He won his headers, the first time he knocked over [Jeremy] Ebobisse — there were some good moments there. Certainly [Torres and Kim Kee-hee] haven’t played a lot together so we’ll do what we can to get them in sync. But they’re two very, very talented players and Roman was waiting for his chance. Here it is. So he’ll be ready.”"
Schmelzer is right. As an individual player, Torres is a more than serviceable replacement, even in a game as high pressured as this one. But the key vulnerability will be his relationship with Kee-Hee. Positionally, Marshall and Kee-Hee are one of the best defensive partnerships in MLS. How will Torres’ introduction disrupt that cohesive understanding?
And that detrimental impact is only accentuated by the presumed absence of Roldan and the clear threat of Portland’s counter-attack. Roldan is a brilliantly intelligent footballer. As such, when in transition from turnovers, he is rarely caught out of position. Therefore, the Seattle midfield is rarely caught out when they do lose possession. Moreover, Roldan and his 46 passes per game and 84.6% pass completion rate help Seattle keep the ball.
This threat is only compounded by the attacking players that Portland have at their disposal. Diego Valeri is obviously the primary creator, servicing threaded through passes from midfield and providing a goal threat from deeper positions, but the speed and clinical finishing of Sebastian Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse are equally difficult to contain. This is an excellent Portland attack, as Seattle discovered in the first leg, conceding two goals in the space of 12 minutes.
And now, not only are they attacking a weakened defence without the protection and surety of Roldan in front of it, but they do so with a one-goal lead. Seattle will need to score on Thursday night. They will be forced to chase the game, if it comes to it. That will leave space at the other end for the Timbers to exploit.
The Seattle Sounders have been the best team in MLS since the halfway point. They are a formidable machine. But this may be one step too far.