SEATTLE – Roman Torres or Xavier Arreaga?
That appears to be the biggest lineup decision facing Seattle Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer and his staff for Sunday’s MLS Cup final (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN, TSN, TVAS) vs. Toronto FC.
Kim Kee-Hee has been ever-present at one of the Sounders’ center back slots this season, starting 30 of 34 regular-season matches and all three of Seattle’s Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs games to date. Torres and Arreaga have more or less split the minutes next to him since the midseason retirement of club legend Chad Marshall, with Torres starting the Sounders’ first two postseason matches and Arreaga turning in a solid performance when he was given the nod vs. LAFC in last week’s Conference Final upset win.
“I don’t think it affects the team in general,” said central midfielder Cristian Roldan on Saturday. “Obviously it’s a tough decision to make, based on how well Xavi’s played and with Roman’s suspension [a 10-game layoff due to a positive test for a performance-enhancing substance over the summer]. But both of them have been in good form so honestly, whoever he chooses will get the job done.”
In general terms it’s age and experience (Torres) vs. youth and athleticism (Arreaga). Another factor: The likelihood of TFC starting Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo as a false No. 9, with powerful targetman Jozy Altidore expected to be a substitute at best on Sunday. Roldan noted Toronto’s frontline tends to move fluidly both on and off the ball within their 4-3-3 shape, requiring attention to tracking runners and minding gaps between the lines.
“Pozuelo, [Tsubasa] Endoh, [Nicolas] Benezet, those guys are all center mids playing out wide, up top,” he said. “So they’re really going to flood the midfield then. If we play pinched in and avoid those guys getting into those soft areas, I think we’ll be all right.”
The general sense around the Sounders’ camp appears to be Torres has pole position on the starting role, given Schmetzer’s tendency to trust in his veterans and his place among the starters in the sections of Seattle workouts that were open to the media earlier in the week.
Of note at Sounders training: Roman Torres and Kim Kee-Hee are training with the presumed starters in 11 vs. 11 work. Xavier Arreaga with the second-team.— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) November 7, 2019
There are also murmurs suggesting Arreaga was feeling discomfort and limitation from an unknown injury niggle during Saturday morning’s training session at CenturyLink Field, the final workout before the final. Then again, Torres ended Friday’s session at Starfire Sports Complex kicking a ball around with his young son on a field adjacent to the one the Sounders trained on, so it’s difficult to read too much into the limited spans of those practices reporters are permitted to watch.
When asked on Saturday if he expected to be in the starting XI, Torres flashed a grin.
“Yes, I believe I will,” he said in Spanish. “But the decision is the coach’s to make.”