TUKWILA, Wash. – The Seattle Sounders will have a 2-0 aggregate lead when they take on the Houston Dynamo in Leg 2 of the Western Conference Championship at CenturyLink Field on Thursday, but they won’t have one of their top defenders.
Starting center back Roman Torres picked up his second yellow card of the 2017 Audi MLS Cup playoffs in the first leg of the series at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. That leaves him suspended for Thursday’s second leg in Seattle (10:30 pm ET; ESPN in the US | TSN1, TVAS2 in Canada) due to yellow card accumulation.
It’s no small loss. Torres makes up half of one of the league’s most potent central defending duos, alongside three-time MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall. The Sounders sport a blistering 12-0-6 record over the last 18 matches the two have started together.
It also means second-year reserve Tony Alfaro, who has played just 817 minutes this year, may be thrust into the spotlight.
“We would prefer that everybody was healthy and I [didn’t have to make] that choice. But if Tony gets on the field, he’ll be fine,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters on Monday. “He’s played in some big games for us. He’s actually come off the bench and sometimes it’s harder when a guy goes down.
“There was the game in Colorado [on July 4] where Marshall came out in the 13th minute or something and he had to jump in there and all of the sudden you’ve got to go. So he’ll be able to handle it.”
Alfaro isn’t Schmetzer’s only potential contingency plan. Midfielder Gustav Svensson has deputized effectively at the position at various points this year and would offer up a more seasoned alternative. If Schmetzer does choose to go that route, Jordy Delem and Nicolas Lodeiro represent two candidates to move into Svensson’s spot in the defensive midfield.
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Svensson said that although his preferred position is defensive mid, he’ll be ready to drop back if it comes to it.
“I mean, it’s not that difficult,” Svensson said. “The biggest difference [with playing center back] is just that you have to stay back and even if you want to go forward or use some energy by running around, you have to stay put. But other than that, it’s pretty much the same, so it [wouldn’t] be a difficult thing. I prefer to play center mid but it wouldn’t be more difficult.”
Of course, having a two-goal cushion and what is sure to be a raucous CenturyLink crowd behind them might alleviate some of the pressure that the Sounders defense would normally feel with Torres out of action.
Even so, right back Kelvin Leerdam said on Tuesday that the Sounders know they’re dealing with a Houston team that had one the of the more dynamic attacks in MLS throughout the season and will be in full-on desperation mode from the outset. Regardless of who lines up next to Torres on Thursday, Leerdam said he’s confident the team will adapt accordingly.
“I always feel confident, it doesn’t matter what lineup we play because we trust each other,” Leerdam said. “Of course, Roman is a very important player on our team but we need everybody, every defender, every teammate to perform. For me, I feel comfortable with everybody.”