TUKWILA, Wash. – Slowly but surely, the Seattle Sounders are working their way back to full strength.
Ahead of the first leg of their Western Conference Championship matchup with the Colorado Rapids, Seattle’s first objective was to maintain the health of their players that have been away on national team duty for their respective World Cup qualifiers. That list included midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay), center back Roman Torres (Panama), forward Nelson Valdez (Paraguay) and fullback Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobego).
Speaking with reporters after Seattle’s Thursday practice at Starfire Soccer Complex, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said all of the above returned unscathed.
“They’re all good,” Schmetzer said. “Roman made it through 90 minutes, Nelson made it through 77, Nico didn’t play much, Joevin was out [training] today. Everybody’s good.”
Rookie forward Jordan Morris, meanwhile, returned to training at half-capacity on Wednesday as he continues to rehab the hamstring strain he suffered during Seattle’s Western Conference semifinal triumph over FC Dallas. As of Thursday, the status of the 2016 MLS AT&T Rookie of the Year winner remains undetermined for Tuesday's first leg against Colorado (10 pm ET, FS1, TSN1, TSN3, RDS2).
“If [Morris] is healthy, he’s going to play,” Schmetzer said. “We are keeping the fire burning, trying to get him back on the field as quickly as we can.”
The statuses of captain Brad Evans and midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz seem to have more clarity, as both returned to full training for the Sounders this week. Evans had seen his minutes limited at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs with nagging back and calf issues, while Ivanschitz has been out since Oct. 23 with a sprained knee.
Exactly what role Evans plays remains to be seen. But Schmetzer said he’s looking forward to having his team’s emotional leader back in the fold.
“Pablo [Mastroeni] is a good coach and I’m sure he knows our team up, down, sideways, across. I know he knows Brad and his attributes,” Schmetzer said. “How we utilize Brad might be something that he doesn’t expect. But we’re happy to have him back.”
The return of Ivanschitz could also prove pivotal in its own right for Seattle.
The 33-year-old Austrian national logged three goals and eight assists in 28 appearances in 2016 and would add an element to Seattle’s attack as it gets set to take on Colorado’s league-best defense.
“[Ivanschitz] was very good [this season] and he’s still really good,” Schmetzer said. “We just have to get him 90 minutes fit and he has to be sharp. That’s the last little hurdle. Sometimes it takes a player a game or two to get back to where he was when he was on a good clip, so that’ll be his last challenge.”