Sounders FC will play for its playoff life Wednesday, probably without two of the top midfielders in MLS – Mauro Rosales and Steve Zakuani.
Coach Sigi Schmid said there is only an “outside shot” of Rosales returning from his knee injury in time for the deciding game of the series with Real Salt Lake.
Zakuani is lost for the season while recovering from leg injuries suffered in April.
However, the Sounders’ midfield still includes Alvaro Fernandez, who was rated in one authoritative index as the league’s most effective player in terms of his team’s likelihood of scoring or conceding a goal while he’s on the field.
“I had heard that, but I’m not even sure with how they come up with the numbers,” Fernandez said through a translator after the Sounders’ training session Monday at Starfire Sports Complex. “In that respect, it’s not that important to me. What’s important is that we really focus on this game on Wednesday and win the game.”
Fernandez was ranked No. 1 in the MLS Castrol Index, which seems to be controversial and mysterious, despite being the league’s official performance index.
“I pay as much attention to the Castrol Index as I do to the Tokyo stock market,” said Schmid, who added he has no investments there. “I have no idea. Nobody’s ever explained to me how they put that thing together. When you look at some of the rankings you almost chuckle to yourself.”
The rankings may be suspect, but Fernandez’s skill is not. His worth is reflected in many ways.
In the MLS regular season, his nine goals were second on the club behind Fredy Montero’s 12. He added two goals in other competitions.
At age 26, Fernandez also has 11 caps with the Uruguay national team. Known to his teammates as “Flaco” – skinny in Spanish – he joined the Sounders last summer after making four appearances in the 2010 World Cup.
His international total could rise this month. Fernandez is on a list of 25 players who could be called in for Uruguay’s World Cup qualifier Nov. 11 against Chile.
“I’m happy,” Fernandez said. “ We just have to wait and see what the final list says.”
Even if Fernandez makes the final list, he won’t have to miss any Sounders games. MLS has accommodated the international calendar with a break between the conference finals this weekend and the MLS Cup on Nov. 20.
However, that will be moot to the Sounders if they are unable to climb out of the 3-0 hole they dug in a series-opening loss Saturday in Utah.
“From the very first touch of the ball, Real Salt Lake played a great game,” Fernandez said. “And unfortunately we didn’t play a great game. But we’re not giving up. We’re going for it, and we’re hoping to get some revenge on Wednesday.”
That would be easier with other stars joining Fernandez. However, Zakuani is training for next season. And Schmid noted Monday that although Rosales is making progress, it could be too late.
“We’ll see,” Schmid said. “I still think it’s more of an outside shot, but at least it’s a shot.”
Sounders goalie and captain Kasey Keller acknowledged that those are painful absences for a potential season-ending match. He also rejected that as an excuse, noting that most teams are at less than full strength after the eight-month season grind.
That includes Real Salt Lake. RSL coach Jason Kreis reported center backs Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers are questionable for Wednesday with quadriceps injuries.
“That’s part of the game, how you adapt to that, and I think for the most part this year we’ve done really well,” Keller said. “Would we love to have had Mauro in that game, or Steve? Of course. And I’m sure every team in the league is saying the same thing. ‘Gosh, I wish this guy were a little bit fitter, and he hadn’t been injured.’ That’s always part of the equation and how that team rises to that.”