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Sounders' reserves play interesting role this season
Seattle is a division-worst 0-2-1 in the MLS Reserve League this season after going 8-1-1 in 2011. So what is wrong with the Sounders' reserves?
Seattle Times staff reporter
Moving upHere are a few Sounders from the past two seasons who have gone from the reserve team to make contributions on the first team.
• F David Estrada: Leads the team with four MLS goals after having a limited impact in his first two seasons.
• D Zach Scott: Former USL Sounder has started the past four MLS games for injured starter Adam Johansson.
• M Alex Caskey: Started his first MLS game last week after having scored in a reserve game on March 26.
• M Lamar Neagle: Scored four reserve-league goals in 2010 to jump into the first team. Traded to Montreal in preseason.
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It's something the Sounders have prided themselves on since Year 1.
It's something that has contributed largely to success across multiple competitions — particularly as the team won three straight U.S. Open Cups — and also something that has helped the team overcome injuries.
That depth has already been displayed on the first-team level this season with an MLS-high 19 players starting games in Seattle's franchise-best 3-1-1 start.
Odd then that Sounders FC's record in the MLS Reserve League this season is 0-2-1 — the worst in the West Division. Last year, the reserves were a division-best 8-1-1.
Is it cause for alarm regarding this season's depth? Coach Sigi Schmid isn't concerned and called it a matter of attitude, not talent.
"For the reserves, and we've talked about it a little bit as a group, I just think there's a little bit of that bite that's missing," Schmid said.
"The hunger hasn't always been there."
The reserves were motivated last year by guys like Zach Scott and David Estrada, who have played mostly with the first team this season. The challenge is instilling that mindset into what is a younger reserve squad following the offseason loss of several established veterans.
Scott's absence with the reserves has been particularly noticeable, according to assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson, who handles coaching duties in the reserve league.
"He helps brings that kind of effort, that kind of emotion and that kind of attitude that sometimes you lack when you're fielding a younger team," Hendrickson said of Scott, the oldest player on the team at 31. "That guy bleeds Sounders and he gets everyone fired up out there on the pitch. We've been missing some of that."
That isn't to say the Sounders have been awful in all of their reserve games — though they were in a 2-0 home loss to Portland on April 10.
In road games at Vancouver and Los Angeles, Seattle dropped points just before the final whistle: The Whitecaps scored a game-tying goal in stoppage time on March 26 and the Galaxy scored a 90th-minute winner Monday.
"We've played 5,340 seconds of good soccer (in those games)," Hendrickson said. "In the last 60 seconds, we're not finishing it out."
Stability in the first team, which is nearly at full strength for the first time this season, should result in stability for the reserves. Reserve-team lineups are always changing due to injuries, first-team call-ups and the availability of guest players and youth academy players.
Hendrickson is hopeful the reserve team will bounce back in the final seven games of the MLS Reserve League season, but depth will be tested in more important competitions in the coming weeks. Starting April 28 in Chicago, Seattle plays five games in 15 days and that busy stretch is followed soon after by the start of the 2012 Open Cup.
It's not hard to tell where the priorities lie, and it's not with the reserve league.
"As long as the first team is doing well, that's the main concern," said Hendrickson. "We'd much rather (the reserves) be 0-2-1 and have the first team be 3-1-1 than have it be the other way around."
• Midfielder Mauro Rosales (knee) and defender Adam Johansson (hamstring) participated in all of Thursday's practice, which is a positive sign regarding their availability against Chicago next week. The pair has missed the past four MLS games and could see time in Saturday's training game against the University of Washington.
• Midfielder Alvaro Fernandez (quad) trained on the side Thursday and might rejoin practice at the start of next week.
• Steve Zakuani could play in Monday's MLS Reserve League game at Chivas USA, according to Schmid. Zakuani, recovering from a long-term leg injury, didn't play against L.A. this week as the team wanted him to go through a three-day fitness cycle.
"If he feels up to it and he feels good and there are no setbacks or anything, the Chivas game might be a good one for him to come on and play a few minutes, and for us to evaluate again where he's at," Schmid said.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or email@example.com. On Twitter @joshuamayers.