Rosales' Injured Knee Puts Sounders' Depth to the Test

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Rosales: Seattle's captain won't be easy to replace.
Sounders FC clearly aren't as good as Santos Laguna, but they're better than Toronto FC. Well, at least they were on Saturday.

That puts them squarely in the Dynamo zone. Conveniently, their orange-clad former Western Conference nemesis, relocated to the East thanks to Major League Soccer's dubious sense of geography, is the opposition Friday night in a nationally broadcast match that, conversely, may be difficult to find on local TV, assuming you're not at the Clink.

That's because it's on NBC Sports Network (formerly known as Versus, aka the Tour de France and National Hockey League channel). If it's not on your local cable system, call 'em up and give 'em hell; it's the first of four NBCSN Sounders telecasts this year.

The match features the return of one fan favorite (former announcer Arlo White), sees another (star midfielder Mauro Rosales) relegated to the sidelines due to injury, and will be this young season's first test of the Sounders' depth.

Houston will see our 3-1 win over Toronto and raise--it's one of five MLS clubs to start 2-0, with 1-0 victories at Chivas USA and San Jose. This is the third of a season-opening run of seven road matches for the Dynamo, which returns to Texas to open its new 22,000-seat stadium on May 12.

The Dynamo and Sounders have been evenly matched over the past three seasons, each side recording three wins and three draws in nine matches. The most painful of the Sounders' losses came in the second leg of the 2009 Western Conference semifinals, a 1-0 defeat at Houston that knocked Seattle out in the playoffs' first round for what would be the first of three consecutive seasons.

The visiting side has a strong Northwest flavor: veteran forward Brian Ching, Houston's all-time leading scorer with 58 goals over six seasons, starred at Gonzaga and spent a season with the A-League Sounders; goalkeeper Tally Hall played high-school soccer in Gig Harbor; midfielder Nathan Sturgis was a Sounder for the team's first two MLS seasons; and Cam Weaver, a 6-foot-4 target man, played for Kentwood High and Seattle U before scoring 18 goals for the USL Sounders in 2006.

But the man who makes the Dynamo go is veteran midfielder Brad Davis, who has led Houston in assists five of the past six seasons and scored the lone goal, on a penalty kick, last week at San Jose. Especially dangerous on set pieces, he's been effective against the Sounders, scoring one goal and setting up four others.

The Sounders' focus will be on midfield as well. Lost in the euphoria of David Estrada's hat trick--in his first MLS start--last Saturday was the sight of Rosales, the team captain, walking tentatively off the pitch after a violent leg-to-leg collision with defender Aaron Maund in front of the Toronto goal. Three days later, the Sounders announced that the 31-year-old Argentine would miss at least two weeks with a sprained right knee.

Another injury issue arose when veteran defender Adam Johansson, a starter at right back in his first year in Seattle, injured his hamstring during practice on Tuesday. His playing status is a game-time decision; if he can't go, Zach Scott could step up to take his place.

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid has a number of options to replace Rosales--an offensive catalyst who broke out last season with five goals and a team-record 13 assists--but these three seem most likely:

Bold pick: Christian Sivebæk. It's going to happen eventually, so why not now? His combination of speed and size--at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, he can outmuscle defenders or blow past them--is hard to find. At 24, the same age as Estrada, Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani, he's the rare Euro in MLS whose best days are ahead of him. A consistent starter for his Danish Superliga club FC Midtjylland and for Denmark's national teams, he could present matchup problems even if Houston opts for a bigger midfield.

Safe choice: Roger Levesque. Seven years Sivebæk's senior, his roots in Seattle stretch back to the A-League, years before Major League Soccer's arrival here. Reliable and versatile, he's the Sounders' Swiss Army Knife and a fan favorite, with a knack for scoring memorable goals--and even more memorable celebrations. But he's far from a sure bet to go the full 90 minutes. Sorry, ladies--he won't be wearing a kilt, just his usual blue #24 shorts.

Defensive option: Marc Burch. Made his Sounders debut and acquitted himself well against Toronto, shoring up a a back four that had been exposed at Santos Laguna three days earlier, and even assisting on Estrada's second goal. Burch, a forward under Sigi in Columbus, played some midfield for D.C. United before being converted to defense. He'd have to be replaced at left back, most likely by Leo Gonzalez.

The only question: Who wears the captain's armband in Rosales' absence? Tenacious midfielder Osvaldo Alonso seems like a logical choice.

 
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