Professional athletes come to understand that friendships may last forever, but the status of “teammate” can change on any given day.
A couple of examples are on display tonight in Commerce City, Colo., when two popular former Seattle Sounders – defender Tyrone Marshall and midfielder Sanna Nyassi – face their ex-teammates as members of the Colorado Rapids.
“They’re my friends – it doesn’t change,” Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “But you want to beat your friends especially.”
Seattle is early in its third season in Major League Soccer, long enough that former Sounders players show up in opposing uniforms almost every week.
However, Marshall and Nyassi aren’t just any former Sounders. In their own ways – Marshall wildly outgoing, and Nyassi politely understated – they were special to many fans and teammates.
And their departures – Nyassi through the expansion draft, and Marshall through the re-entry draft – inevitably changed the personality of the club they left behind.
“Just their presence in the locker room was an important factor of our team,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “Those guys not being in here – Tyrone not being here – you take away a little of that presence. Sanna is certainly a guy who played with a lot of energy. He came on last year, played a lot better at the end of last year, got better every year, and also was sort of a player favorite.”
Marshall said the feeling is mutual.
As a veteran of 14 MLS seasons and five MLS clubs, he is no stranger to the nomadic lifestyle of a pro athlete. However, he admits that his two seasons in Seattle were more than just another stop along the road.
“I made Seattle my home for the last two seasons and felt very welcome there,” he said Thursday in a phone interview. “I had a little bit more attachment to Seattle compared to other teams. The only exception would be L.A., seeing I was there for the longest (2002-07).
“(But) I’m playing for the Rapids now, and we need to get three points at home. So I’ll need to put my feelings aside for 90-95 minutes, however long it is, and hopefully come out on the winning end of it.”
Marshall doesn’t cast this as any sort of grudge match. However, he does admit that his happy memories of Seattle were tarnished somewhat by an awkward ending.
In 2009, Marshall was a fixture along the Sounders’ back line, starting 25 games. Last season, that dropped to 14, and by the end of the season he was mostly a reserve.
During the offseason he was left exposed, first in the expansion draft and then the re-entry draft for unsigned veterans.
“I definitely felt the bitter taste in my mouth a little bit about that,” he said. “But sometimes it’s for the best, and that’s how you have to look at it: Always look at the positives, not the negatives. Come over here and try to make the most of it.”
Colorado actually represents a homecoming for Marshall, who began his MLS career as the Rapids’ first pick in the 1998 college draft. He played one game there before being traded to Miami.
He returned with 294 career appearances behind him – ninth-most among active MLS players. The break between his MLS debut and his return to Colorado – 12 years and 272 days – was the longest such stretch in league history.
This season, he has appeared in two games, and he got his first start last week at Real Salt Lake. Nyassi has appeared in four games, with one start.
Not surprisingly, both hope for a chance to make their marks tonight.
“Our lockers are right next to each other, and we converse about things going on back in Seattle,” Marshall said. “ I have a house back there, Sanna has family back there; we have friends. Sanna is a good face to see in the locker room when you come in. He’s pretty excited, too, about this game coming up (tonight). I saw in the practice (Thursday) he was very lively and bubbly. I’m excited to see Sanna do his thing.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer
SOUNDERS FC (1-2-3, 6 POINTS) AT COLORADO RAPIDS (3-2-0, 9 POINTS)
6:30 P.M., DICK’S SPORTING GOODS PARK; COMMERCE CITY, COLO.
TV: Fox Soccer Channel. RADIO: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
HEAD TO HEAD: Seattle leads 2-1-1, but the Sounders are 0-1-1 at Colorado. The Rapids will visit Qwest Field on July 16.
TEAM LEADERS: For Seattle – Goals 2, O’Brian White and Steve Zakuani; Assists 2, White and Zakuani; Shots 16, Fredy Montero; Shots on goal 9, Montero; Goals against average 1.17, Kasey Keller. For Colorado – G 2, three players tied; A 1, seven players tied; S 8, Omar Cummings; SOG, 4, Caleb and Jamie Smith; GAA 1.20, Matt Pickens.
NOTES: Colorado is the reigning MLS Cup champion. The Rapids have lost back-to-back games by a combined score of 4-0. Colorado is 30-45-12 all time at DSG Park, and 20-0-6 when scoring first at home. The Rapids have scored three or more goals in six of their past eight home games. Colorado career goals leader Conor Casey (hamstring) is questionable. Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni (Achilles’), who missed the past two games, is probable. On the Rapids’ roster are former Sounders Tyrone Marshall and Sanna Nyassi. Nyassi is probable with a hamstring strain. The Sounders are as healthy as they have been all season with only Pat Noonan appearing on the injury report (probable with a quad strain). Noonan joined the Sounders after being waived by Colorado. Seattle is 1-0-3 in its past four. This is the second game of a stretch with Seattle playing four of five games on the road. The run began with a 2-2 draw last week at Philadelphia. Seattle leads the league in shots (85) and shots on goal (30).
QUOTABLE: “Mastroeni, is he going to be back or not back? Is Casey going to be able to even play off the bench? Those are question marks for them. But they are a good quality team that obviously wants to get back on the winning trail.” – Sounders coach Sigi Schmid
NEXT: Toronto FC, 7 p.m. April 30, Qwest Field.
Don Ruiz, staff writer