TUKWILA – The Seattle Sounders will be without two key players tonight against Chivas USA due to what has been a seasonlong issue.
Not injury, which has been the other problem this year.
Not suspension, though Seattle will be dealing with one of those, as well, following Leo Gonzalez’s red card in Columbus.
Top forwards Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson will be unavailable for the 7 p.m. game at CenturyLink Field while serving with the U.S. men’s national team for the next round of World Cup qualifying. And only a calf injury to Brad Evans will keep Seattle from losing three players this week – including Saturday’s home game against Chicago – to international duty.
By the time Dempsey and Johnson return next week, the Sounders will have lost 15 cumulative player-games due to national-team call-ups this season. More World Cup qualifiers await in October.
The entire concept of losing players for international competition is fairly unique to soccer, as the Seahawks won’t fear the midseason loss of Russell Wilson to the U.S. nor the Mariners with Felix Hernandez to Venezuela.
The conflict is particularly exacerbated in MLS, where league games continue during windows for international games scheduled by FIFA, the governing body of world soccer.
So what is the solution in balancing a crowded schedule for club and country?
“The solution is what they do in the leagues in Europe: They don’t play on the weekend of (international) games,” said coach Sigi Schmid.
Taking those weekends off like the English Premier League or the German Bundesliga would present other issues, unfortunately. MLS would then have to schedule multiple midweek games, which are prone to smaller crowds and, thus, lower revenue.
That isn’t so much the case in Seattle, where another 38,000 or so fans are expected tonight. Attendance never is an issue here, of course, where the soccer phenomenon is alive and well as the Sounders average twice the crowd of nearly every other MLS team at 42,963 per game.
“Once we get to a point where midweek games (league-wide) draw as well as weekend games, then you can schedule more midweek games and you can open up the weekends of international fixture dates,” said Schmid, who added a bigger TV contract for the league could also help.
Another potential solution is a reduced schedule, and ProSoccerTalk reported that MLS is considering a 28-game season instead of the current 34. Though, once again, lower revenue generated from fewer home games would make that a difficult proposition.
Losing key players to international duty, it seems, is an issue here to stay as the Sounders’ best continue to come and go.
Obafemi Martins is set to make his return tonight after missing three games with a sprained ankle. The forward was kicked on the ankle in practice, but Schmid said he still feels good about Martins’ chances of playing. Evans is out with the calf strain. … Johnson’s goal celebration Saturday, where he repeated the phrase “Pay me!”, was deemed a nonissue by general manager Adrian Hanauer and Schmid. Hanauer said he agreed Johnson is underpaid at $150,000 and the team is hopeful of signing him to a new deal. Schmid said Johnson hasn’t been a distraction to the team.