TUKWILA, Wash. – With the Seattle Sounders facing massive Cascadia Cup clashes against the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers, they suddenly find themselves without the services of one of their best players.
The Seattle Times reported Tuesday morning that Sounders left back Joevin Jones left the club early to join the Trinidad and Tobago national team for its upcoming World Cup qualifiers, after initially being slated for release next week.
Speaking to reporters at Seattle’s training session on Tuesday, Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey was tight-lipped about the specifics of the situation, but did confirm that Jones was not with the team this week.
“Joevin has left the team for personal reasons and he’ll be returning to the national team down in Trinidad,” Lagerwey said. “I would say that we don’t have anything to add to [the Seattle Times] report, unfortunately. Speculating about what might or might not happen is speculating and doesn’t hold a lot of weight."
The surprise early departure means Jones will be out for both Seattle’s midweek fixture away to the Whitecaps at BC Place (10 pm ET; MLS LIVE in US | TSN in Canada) and at home against the Timbers on Sunday (9:30 pm ET; FS1, FOX Deportes in US | MLS LIVE in Canada).
Lagerwey did not say if he expected Jones back after the international break.
“He’s obviously free to go play for the national team in qualifiers and friendlies are always something we negotiate around," Lagerwey said. "I wouldn’t speculate as to whether he’s going to be out for a long time or not. He’s going to miss these two games at this point, just to be clear about that.”
Jones has been one of the most dynamic fullbacks in MLS this season, tallying 10 assists from his position on the left flank. The 26-year-old also has an expiration date in a Sounders uniform, with the plan to depart Seattle following this season after signing a multi-year contract with SV Damrstadt 98 of the 2.Bundesliga.
“We hope that he can get those [personal issues] resolved and that he comes back to the team and he continues to do what he does, because he’s been arguably the best left back in the league,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I think the message to the group is that whatever the situation with Joevin is, it will get handled. And No. 2, it will not become a distraction for the group.”
Jones’ absence is hardly ideal for Seattle as they try to extend their recent streak of unbeaten matches to 10, starting at Vancouver on Wednesday. However, it gives Schmetzer the chance for an extended look at the player who is ostensibly set to replace him. That's 20-year-old Cameroonian Nouhou, who has already emerged as one of the Sounders’ surprise performers of 2017.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for Nouhou,” said Lagerwey. “He’s a young player and he has a big opportunity now in some huge games. On the road at Vancouver is a tough game. At home against Portland on national TV, that’s a huge opportunity and we’ll see what he does with it.”