The Seattle Sounders will be thin at centerback during the World Cup. National team call-ups to Panama’s Roman Torres and Sweden’s Gustav Svensson, who often covered for Torres as he recovered from a hamstring strain early in the season, mean just three centerbacks are on Seattle’s roster for the foreseeable future.
Chad Marshall, in his fifth season in Seattle, said he and teammates Tony Alfaro and Kim Kee-hee are ready to fill out the back line while Svensson and Torres are away.
“I think we’re good,” Marshall said Friday. “Tony and Kim, I think we have a good understanding of each other. We’ve played with each other enough now, we know each other’s tendencies. I feel like we’ve done well in the time we’ve had together. I don’t see a problem. Obviously, it’s nice to have the luxury of more bodies, but I think we’ll do our best job to take care of ourselves and be able to play as many games as we can.”
Despite Seattle’s last-place position in the Western Conference, the defense has been surprisingly stout. The Sounders have conceded 11 goals, tied for second best in Major League Soccer.
The absences of Torres and Svensson may force Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer to reconsider his formation. Seattle has deployed a 5-4-1 in its two most recent fixtures, but that lineup might force the Sounders to put all three centerbacks on the field with no backup available.
The silver lining for Schmetzer and the Sounders is that Kim, who featured heavily in South Korea’s World Cup qualifying campaign, was not selected by his country for the tournament in Russia. Kim’s snub may be related to the calf strain that limited the centerback to 16 minutes of field time in the first five MLS matches of the season.
Marshall said that Kim, who did not speak much English when the club signed him Feb. 27, has dramatically improved his ability to communicate with his teammates.
“He’s picked up a ton,” Marshall said. “It’s a testament to him, I’m sure he’s been studying a ton. It’s incredible how much he’s learned in the short time he’s been here. It’s huge and you notice it on the field, for sure.”
Between Kim and Marshall, the Sounders still have two high-level centerbacks they can rely on. Still, with at least five matches between now and June 28, the end of the World Cup group stage, it will be a tall order for Seattle to maintain its defensive fortitude.