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Seattle Sounders look to youth as post-João Paulo reality sets in

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A home Open Cup loss, as agonizingly narrow as it was, to a Quakes side mercilessly routed by the Sounders several times in recent years raises further questions ahead of the Loons’ visit, starting with the pressing matter of the João Paulo-sized hole in deep midfield.

An ACL tear suffered in the first half of the second-leg CCL final victory over Pumas UNAM has ruled out the Brazilian No. 6 – an All-Star and Seattle’s team MVP last year – for the rest of the season. That robs the Rave Green of their metronome, a do-it-all problem solver who in 2021 ranked among league leaders in a diverse span of categories, ranging from assists and interceptions to tackles won and chance creation from set pieces.

As much as Schmetzer had to chop and change his lineups while fighting on two fronts, João Paulo was close to ever-present, starting seven of their eight CCL matches and six of their seven MLS games before his injury. But the coach has so far maintained that SSFC’s impressive depth means reinforcement from outside is not necessary – granted, though, a cynic might say he had little choice considering that the injury happened to coincide with the closing of MLS’s Primary Transfer Window on May 4.

“We almost have too much depth [at holding mid],” Schmetzer said last week. “We have three young kids who are super talented.”

That would be Obed Vargas, the 16-year-old wunderkind who replaced João Paulo against Pumas and has inspired a surging hype train with his start to 2022; Josh Atencio, last year’s engine-room revelation, still just 20; and Danny Leyva, another teenage talent once rated as the club’s top prospect. All are homegrowns out of Seattle’s increasingly prolific academy, and all seem to have earned the faith of Schmetzer and the technical staff writ large.

Vargas and Atencio started against FC Dallas last weekend; Leyva and Atencio got the nod vs. the Quakes at Starfire. Given how seamlessly and effectively he’s slotted into a deeper role in Seattle, Designated Player Albert Rusnak is likely to be eased back into one of those No. 6 slots soon.





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Loons vs. NYCFC preview: Rematch at long last

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7 p.m. vs. New York City FC · BSN, 1500-AM

Preview: These two teams meet for the first time since April 2019, when the Loons opened new $250 million Allianz Field. Ozzie Alonso scored the stadium’s first goal in a 3-3 draw. This will be only the fourth time they have played competitively and the second at Allianz; each team is 1-1-1. … Wednesday’s 2-1 U.S. Open Cup loss to third-division Union Omaha knocked the Loons out of the all-comers tournament in the round of 16. Their last MLS game was Sunday’s 2-1 victory at FC Dallas. … NYCFC’s Open Cup victory over New England makes them 10 games undefeated in all competitions. Its last loss was in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal against Seattle. Its last league loss was against Toronto in early April. … The Loons will play without yellow card-suspended Kervin Arriaga and Michael Boxall.

Injuries: The Loons’ Hassani Dotson and Patrick Weah are out for the season; goalkeeper Tyler Miller (abdominal) and defender Romain Metanire (thigh) are out, too. Leading scorer Robin Lod (thigh) is listed as questionable, as are midfielder Wil Trapp (ribs) and strikers Luis Amarilla (foot) and Abu Danladi (thigh). NYCFC lists Anton Tinnerholm (Achilles tendon) and Kevin O’Toole (head) as out and Chris Gloster, Tayvon Gray, Maxi Moralez and Malte Amundsen as questionable, all because of “lower body” injuries.



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Alex Roldán turned down call-up to El Salvador

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Alex Roldán was conspicuously left off El Salvador’s roster for some upcoming Concacaf Nations League matches. On Friday, El Salvador coach Hugo Perez explained why.

“To close this chapter I want to say that Roldán is not coming because he is not happy with what happened before the game against Canada,” he said in Spanish. “He prefers to take some more time to digest that. But that is the reason, there is no other. Those are things that don’t have to happen, but they did. But we can’t do anything anymore, we have to turn the page and move on.”

The incident in question happened in February, when the El Salvador players released a statement saying that they intended not to play a World Cup qualifier due to a dispute over bonuses. Although they eventually relented, some hard feelings apparently persisted.

The 2-0 loss to Canada effectively eliminated El Salvador from World Cup contention and Roldán was not part of the team during the final qualifying window, nor a friendly in April.

Although Roldán only made his El Salvador debut during last summer’s Gold Cup, he’s already made 15 appearances and established himself as a team captain.

In a Twitter post, Roldán didn’t offer a ton of elaboration but did say that he “didn’t want to come back with bad thoughts and ruin relationships” and left the door open for a return in the future.

El Salvador’s loss is the Sounders’ gain, however, as Roldán will now be available for the team’s June 14 match against the Vancouver Whitecaps.





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João Paulo undergoes ‘successful’ ACL surgery

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João Paulo underwent “successful” ACL surgery on Wednesday, the Seattle Sounders announced. The surgery was performed by Dr. Bert Mandelbaum in Santa Monica, Calif., the same doctor who did both of Jordan Morris’ ACL procedures. The injury occurred during the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League final on May 4.

Generally speaking, the recovery timeline for ACL surgeries is 6-9 months, which means the earliest João Paulo could return is sometime early next year, most likely in February or March. If the Club World Cup takes place in 2023, the thinking seems to be that it would likely happen in mid-February. The MLS regular season usually starts in late February or early March.

It took Morris about eight months to return from his most recent ACL surgery, but he was about five years younger than João Paulo is now. Jordy Delem needed almost a full year to recover from his ACL injury.



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