Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey explains why Shane O'Neill's value during a pandemic

Shane O'Neill - Seattle Sounders - tackle

The work relationship between center backs Yeimar Gomez Andrade and Xavier Arreaga has perhaps not fused as quickly as the Seattle Sounders would've hoped this season.

That's understandable given the circumstances for a pair of international players who have less than a season of MLS experience between them, club GM Garth Lagerwey told Sounders Weekly on Tuesday

The pair have started only four of Seattle's nine league matches together, with journeyman veteran Shane O'Neill also called into the starting XI in the last five matches. 

While injuries explained Brian Schmetzer's choices on some days, on others it may have been that O'Neill was seen as a better choice to offer stability during the turbulence that is the COVID-19 pandemic.

"With the season stop-starting like it has, it’s been really difficult, especially I think for some of the foreign guys, who are not used to the food, not used to the culture, in the family situation where they’re in lockdowns not around anybody that’s part of a support network," Lagerwey said.

"How much time have they really had to make friends or their wives to make friends?" He continued. "We don’t think of these things in a footballing context, but they’re real. Yeimar’s been separate from his family, they’ve been down in Argentina the whole time. I do think a player like Shane O’Neill who is American and who is single and has played a bunch of places, that’s a good profile to adapt and thrive in COVID world. And I think everyone else has been a little bit more stressed. And everyone’s trying to figure it out."

After an impressive 3-1 win over LAFC, the Sounders followed by conceding a late leveler in a 2-2 draw against RSL and then continued the trend of Cascadia rivals losing at home in a 2-1 defeat to the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

They try to right that form Thursday at home against the San Jose Earthquakes (10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US and DAZN in Canada) without Gustav Svensson, who joined Sweden for its UEFA Nations League matches against France and Portugal and must now re-quarantine before re-joining the Sounders.

"Gustav expressed that it was really important for him to go," Lagerwey said, "... and he was likely to feature, and that it was really important for their position ahead of international tournaments. Since all of those tournaments are now pushed back a year. So we talked it through and we agreed to let Gustav go."

A temporary FIFA rule change would've allowed the Sounders to refuse the call-up, at least this month. But it will likely to continue to be an issue in the near future, Lagerwey said. (Svensson will be suspended for Sweden's next match in the competition after being sent off in Tuesday's 2-0 loss to Portugal.)

"MLS has no choice really to try to keep playing through, to try to get games in to hold a real season," Lagerwey said. "We don’t know yet that MLS is going to play through the FIFA break (in October), but I think it’s a reasonable assumption that they will, and if that’s the case, we’ll have to go through this again.

"As always, we try to do the right thing by our players. That’s what we’ll continue to try to do, and we’ll try to balance that with what’s best for the team, and we’ll try to do that as well."