Sounders FC

Ianni finally gets his shot

It’s an oddity that sometimes happens in sports.

A player earns a regular role with a successful team, then moves to a less-established franchise and can’t find any playing time.

It happened, for a time, to Sounders FC defender Patrick Ianni. He got his professional career got off to a solid start with two-time MLS champion Houston, came to expansion Seattle in a trade, and instead of becoming a bigger fish in a smaller pond, he seemed to get lost in the shuffle of players.

Ianni didn’t make his Sounders debut until the ninth game of the season, when injuries and ineligibilities created an opening. But he has appeared in every game since, and he’s expected back in the starting lineup Saturday when San Jose visits Qwest Field.

“I think Patrick Ianni has played well in the games that he has come in to play,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “... He started in this league before, so it’s a chance for him to put a stamp on it and say ‘I’m here, I’m ready, and I’m willing to compete.’ ”

The surprise is that it took Ianni so long to say that – or for Schmid to hear it.

Ianni arrived with a solid pedigree. He was a Pacific-10 Conference co-player of the year and Hermann Trophy semifinalist at UCLA – where Schmid had played and coached. He started on the U.S. under-20 national team – which Schmid coached.

He was the eighth overall pick in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft and a member of the 2006 and ’07 MLS-champion Dynamos. In 2008, he made the U.S. Olympic team and played in 17 games for Houston.

The Sounders were impressed enough to trade for him in January. But then he couldn’t find the field for the first two months of league play.

“I thought I was playing fairly well toward the end of preseason,” Ianni said. “Obviously, it didn’t go my way then, as far as starting. But Sigi and I talked about it, and I think my play has progressed. I’m happy about that. I have to stay at a high level day in and day out.”

Ianni (pronounced ee-AWN-ee) got his first start and went all 90 minutes in the Sounders’ draw at Dallas. He came on for Peter Vagenas in the 71st minute the next week at Colorado, and again in the 64th minute against Columbus. He went 90 minutes last week at Chivas USA as Vagenas was held out with an ankle injury.

And while Ianni is expected to start again Saturday night, he said his goals reach beyond that.

“I don’t think there’s any satisfaction in just starting,” he said. “There’s satisfaction in winning games and being a part of that on the field. So ask me about satisfaction on Saturday night.”

Only three points would fully satisfy the Sounders, who haven’t won since San Jose’s previous visit April 25. As their winless streak has grown to six games, they have fallen into a tie for third place in the Western Conference.

The primary problem has been on offense, where the Sounders have scored eight goals over their past nine games. However, they also have earned only one shutout since starting the season with three in a row.

Part of the reason has been disruption along the back line, not only losing Vagenas and Osvaldo Alonso to injury, but also losing James Riley and Tyrone Marshall to red-card suspensions.

Marshall returns this week, and Alonso might, too. But the team will be without Jhon Kennedy Hurtado because of yellow-card accumulation.

“Patrick has done a great job: did a good job in the (U.S. Open) Cup game, did a good job the other day (at Chivas),” goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “Now, obviously, it’ll be a little change: Tyrone will be back in, Jhon will be out. We’ll adapt well. But the more often you can play with the same back five, back six, you’re going to see, statistically, a better defensive record.”

The Sounders hope that once the injuries and disciplinary suspensions finally end, they will emerge with a stable and deeper lineup for the stretch run.

“The teams that we’ve been playing against have been together pretty consistently for two, three, four years – at least the core group,” Ianni said. “But at the same time, we have to be on a quick learning curve because we want to at least make the playoffs and have a chance to win MLS Cup this year.”

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808