Losing their regular-season finale was not the worst thing that could’ve happened to the Seattle Sounders on Sunday. But potentially losing a key player for the MLS Cup playoffs would certainly be a disaster.
Both Eddie Johnson and Jeff Parke left early with hamstring issues during Seattle’s 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy, causing even more concern than the Sounders being forced to settle for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. They’ll open their two-legged, aggregate-goal series at home on Nov. 2 before heading to Real Salt Lake on Nov. 8.
Head coach Sigi Schmid said Parke was removed simply as a precaution, and the defender said he expects to be ready in time for the playoffs. But the prognosis on Johnson was not as clear. He will undergo a MRI on Monday to assess the extent of his injury.
“I made a couple of long runs early in the game and [the] hammy kind of tightened up on me,” Johnson told reporters at the Home Depot Center. “My game requires making hard runs behind the back four. I tried to set the defender up, like I was going to come to the ball and check to the right. I felt a big cramp in my hamstring.
“I know what that feels like so I was smart, I came out. I didn't try to force it, but there's definitely something there. If I tried to play, I would have been restricted. The smart thing for me to do, what is best for the team, was for me to come out.”
Sammy Ochoa replaced Johnson in the 45th minute and would seem to the obvious replacement if he’s needed. Ochoa had a couple nice moments in the game, but has played sparingly in league play this season. This was just his ninth MLS appearance and he has a goal and an assist in that time. David Estrada spelled Johnson earlier in the season, but has not started since spending nearly four months out with an injury.
Ochoa’s best moments have come in other competitions, where he’s accumulated seven goals. He most recently scored his fourth goal in as many CONCACAF Champions League games last Wednesday.
As good as Ochoa has been in those games, the Sounders would have a hard time replacing Johnson. The striker enjoyed a renaissance year, leading the team with 14 goals scored and nearly adding another on a diving header in the 25th minute than Josh Saunders sprawled to his right to save.
“It is something where we have to see where we are at and see what players are available to us,” said Schmid of his team’s injury troubles heading into the RSL series. “Salt Lake have some guys with injuries as well. We are going to put out 11 players they will put out 11 players and they will decide it on the field."
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.