UPDATE (9:15 pm ET) – Seattle were ultimately the first-ever MLS club to start five teenagers in a match, while 15-year-old Obed Vargas became the third-youngest player to appear in an MLS game. Only Freddy Adu and Alphonso Davies were younger.
The Sounders were forced into a mix-matched lineup after 10 players were unavailable due to injuries, international call-ups and suspensions. Several Tacoma Defiance extreme hardship call-ups started from the jump.
Check out the lineup below:
ORIGINAL (4:44 pm ET) – The Seattle Sounders still remain atop the Western Conference standings while emerging from their first loss of the season, but as they look to stay there, the Rave Green are navigating the most challenging portion of their schedule.
Seattle finally fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, suffering a 1-0 loss against Minnesota United thanks to a late game-winner from Robin Lod. Ahead of their follow-up match against Austin FC at Q2 Stadium on Thursday (9:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes), the list of absences the Sounders have to contend with through injuries and international absences has only grown.
Asked about what that all means for his lineup choices against Austin FC, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer gave a simple answer. Later on Thursday, the club confirmed they called in several young academy prospects from USL Championship affiliate Tacoma Defiance in order to fill out the matchday squad.
"Very young," Schmetzer said of the lineup he expects to field. "Very young."
There's reason to believe the young faces Schmetzer may turn to can pull their weight, too. 19-year-old homegrown Josh Atencio has made seven appearances and four first-team starts this season after emerging as a surprise standout in preseason training camp. Now, he's a candidate to deputize in central defense with Arreaga out and Nouhou and Shane O'Neill both still injured. Fellow midfielder, 18-year-old Danny Leyva, has also performed capably in his 336 minutes this season.
The extreme hardship call-ups – Samuel Adeniran, Juan Alvarez, Obed Vargas and Alex Villanueva – only figure to feature in case of an emergency, but Schmetzer said he has no problem calling their number if it comes to it.
"Wade Webber [the head coach] at Defiance plays the same system that we do, so the players understand what the general tactics are," Schmetzer said. "Obviously the level of competition that they would face if they got in a game is a little higher, so you try and simplify the game for the young kids, and you just want them to use their youthful exuberance and their excitement to be involved in a professional game to kind of carry into [the game] and some of the adrenaline turn into energy.
"Of course they are [nervous]; if they weren't nervous, then I'd be concerned if they didn't have butterflies right before kickoff. And you just try and help them settle into the game and their job if they get on the field is to work hard and represent the club and themselves in a positive fashion."
Austin, chasing a playoff spot in their inaugural season, have injury problems of their own going into the contest, with six players ruled out.
Still, that doesn't rival the near full lineup's worth of unavailabilities for Seattle. There could soon be some positive developments on the injury front, however. Schmetzer said that forward Will Bruin (knee) and O'Neill (hip flexor) are both "pretty close" to returning, and that standout playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro (knee), who has played just 24 minutes all season, is scheduled to do fieldwork with assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda on Friday. In the meantime, the coach said he feels confident that they'll navigate this chaotic and shorthanded stretch.
"I'm very confident and comfortable with the group I'm gonna put out there, and we're going to turn around on Saturday and put out another strong lineup against Sporting KC," Schmetzer said.