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Sports >  Seattle Sounders

Key players return for Sounders ahead of playoff match against Real Salt Lake

UPDATED: Sat., Nov. 20, 2021

Seattle Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz, right, celebrates with teammate Cristian Roldan, left, after scoring a goal on a penalty kick against the San Jose Earthquakes during the first half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in San Jose, Calif.  (Associated Press)
Seattle Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz, right, celebrates with teammate Cristian Roldan, left, after scoring a goal on a penalty kick against the San Jose Earthquakes during the first half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in San Jose, Calif. (Associated Press)
By Jayda Evans Seattle Times

TUKWILA – Sounders FC returned to training Friday and the look on the field at Starfire Sports was more desired considering the club’s lead-up to the playoffs.

Key players Joao Paulo (hamstring), Raul Ruidiaz (hamstring) and Jimmy Medranda (hamstring) participated in full training for the first time in nearly a month. But co-captain Nico Lodeiro (knee) remains restricted.

The club also welcomed internationals Cristian Roldan (U.S.), Alex Roldan (El Salvador), Danny Leyva (U.S. U-20), Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) and Yeimar Gomez Andrade (Colombia) back from World Cup qualifying matches and youth matches. Nouhou (Cameroon) had a delayed flight, according to Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer.

Cristian Roldan and Arreaga didn’t play, however, the latter left during Ecuador’s training camp due to an undisclosed injury. He’s still being evaluated by the Sounders and only participated in warmups.

Nouhou left his second match early in the opening half due to an apparent shoulder injury. But during an exchange on WhatsApp, Nouhou told his coach he’s “fine, 100 percent ready to play,” Schmetzer said.

“We know they were well taken care of by their respective national teams,” Schmetzer said. “But if they’re not going to play, would it have been better for them to be here with the group so we can work on some things? Of course.

“The fact of the matter is this club is a big club, it’s a massive club and we have national-team players. We have the ability to push players up to the national team. All of that to me is a good distraction. When they come back after having not played, they’re usually chomping at the bit to get back out on the field.”

The second-seeded Sounders host seventh-seeded Real Salt Lake on Tuesday at Lumen Field. The sides split their regular-season series, each winning on their home field.

Due to the international window, the Sounders haven’t played since a draw against Cascadia rival Vancouver on Nov. 7.

“Hopefully this little break has given us enough time to get some guys’ injuries taken care of,” Sounders keeper Stefan Frei said. “We’re excited for Tuesday.”

One of the aspects the Sounders hope has improved with the extended time to focus on themselves is defending on set pieces. The back line has left top scorers like Los Angeles Galaxy striker Chicharito unmarked for close-range goals in the box.

The Sounders closed the regular season on a six-game winless streak.

“It’s all training,” Frei said. “In the game, I can be screaming as much as I want and people can’t hear me anymore. Quite frankly what it comes down to is individual responsibilities, too.

“If I have a man-to-man, at the very least, I have to bump that guy. We cannot have free guys running in the box. We have to take a bit more pride in our defending.”

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