For the second consecutive season, Seattle Sounders FC might be heading into the playoffs immediately following the loss of one of its most irreplaceable players.
But the key word is “might,” as coach Sigi Schmid gave a mostly upbeat report on the hamstring injury suffered Sunday by leading scorer Eddie Johnson.
“It’s a slight tweak,” Schmid said Tuesday. “… It’s not nearly as bad as we had feared that it might be. There’s an outside chance (Johnson will play) on Friday, and for sure the second game shouldn’t be a problem.”
The club opens its aggregate-score playoff series with Real Salt Lake at home on Friday. The deciding game will be played Nov. 8 in Utah.
The injury to Johnson, who leads Seattle with 14 goals, happened late in the Sounders’ match at Los Angeles that ended the regular season.
If he can’t go this week, the most conventional potential replacement could be Sammy Ochoa, who like Johnson is a large forward who is most effective in front of the goal.
Ochoa had one goal in nine appearances during the regular season. But he had four goals in four appearances during group play of the CONCACAF Champions League, and three goals in four appearances in the U.S. Open Cup.
“I’m ready if I get the chance to play,” Ochoa said. “I’m ready for that opportunity, to just take advantage. If Eddie’s ready, then hopefully I’m on the bench. But if he’s not (ready), I’m there in case Sigi puts me in the starting lineup.”
Schmid said he has several options to fill the forward spot alongside Fredy Montero.
“We’ll see what we think is best,” he said. “We’ll take a good look at our games (against RSL). Ochoa has played in the past. (David) Estrada really hasn’t been available for them. (Steve) Zakuani is somebody now back in the mix – he’s played up front before. I think we’ve got three options. Even (midfielder Mauro) Rosales could push up high if we needed to.”
Last season, it was Rosales in a situation similar to the one Johnson is in now: suffering an injury to the medial collateral ligament of his right knee in the final game of the regular season. It cost him both legs of the playoff series eventually won by Real Salt Lake.
That experience leaves him looking forward to his Major League Soccer postseason debut Friday at CenturyLink Field.
“Last year was very bad watching the game from outside, knowing that you can’t help the team in any way,” Rosales said. “I have my opportunity now (this) Friday and I will try to do my best. I will put all the energy, the concentration, that the team needs. Also (we need that) from everybody. It’s playoff time, and we have to be 100 percent attitude and everything.”
Schmid said defender Jeff Parke (hamstring) is ready to play, while defenders Leo Gonzalez (hamstring) and Patrick Ianni (calf) “seem to be getting better every day.” … Raphael Cox of Tacoma scored in a penalty kick shootout last Saturday, helping the Tampa Bay Rowdies over the Minnesota Stars for the NASL Soccer Bowl championship. Cox previously played for the University of Washington and the Tacoma Tide. … The MLS playoffs begin at 6 p.m. today with Houston in Chicago for a single-elimination Eastern Conference play-in game.Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt