By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (Sep 13, 2017) US Soccer Players - Poorly timed injuries can derail MLS seasons nearly overnight. With rosters thin and teams already stretched heading into the Fall, losing even one key contributor can unbalance a squad and throw a campaign into disarray.
Just ask FC Dallas. Despite strolling through the 2016 regular season and collecting two trophies along the way, the club came up short in their quest to lift the biggest prize of all. A late season injury to midfield maestro Mauro Diaz proved to be too much of an obstacle to overcome in the playoffs. Dallas fell to the eventual champions Seattle Sounders. Coach Oscar Pareja had to abandon his team’s identity on the road in Seattle, leading to a 3-0 loss from which FC Dallas never recovered.
In 2017, injuries are again looming large as teams take the turn for the home stretch. Several teams find themselves facing the push for the playoffs and a top seed without important players.
Though he hasn’t had the most productive season, Seattle’s Jordan Morris is still a major part of the effort to secure a second straight MLS Cup title. Still settling in as a professional, the second year striker provides energy and speed to the attack. Even when he’s not scoring, Morris helps open up space for the likes of Nico Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey. That's because he makes runs and pulls defenders out of position.
Morris suffered a hamstring injury on Sunday and will miss at least a month. There seems to be at least some belief in Sounders’ camp that losing Morris won’t be devastating. That's in part because Will Bruin is a capable forward and is ready to step in.
Considering their slow start to the season, it’s still tough to know just how good this Sounders team can be. Unbeaten in 12, they are nonetheless still an unknown quantity. Getting back to last year’s level will have to happen without Morris.
NYCFC has a pair of injuries to deal with. If they linger, it could undo everything they’ve built this season. Defending league MVP David Villa picked up an abductor strain while on international duty with Spain. That kept him out of the lineup in a 1-0 loss to Portland on Saturday. There’s no knowing if Villa’s presence might have salvaged something. Considering it was their first time on the wrong side of a shutout at home this season, his absence was conspicuous.
As was the absence of Venezuelan midfielder Yangel Herrera. The 19-year old grabbed the position once held by Andrea Pirlo a month into the season and hasn’t let go since. The work Herrera does in front of the back line has been crucial in balancing Patrick Vieira’s team. Herrera is out with an injury described as “day-to-day”. With Pirlo forced into action in back-to-back games over the last week, his turnover against Portland directly led to the Timbers’ winning goal.
Neither injury is serious. NYCFC needs both Villa and Herrera back quickly, an in-form if they are going to challenge Toronto FC for Eastern Conference supremacy come playoff time.
Across the river in New Jersey, the Red Bulls have their own pair out, representing a mini-crisis of sorts. Both Aurelien Collin and Daniel Royer missed out on a draw with the Fire on Saturday, robbing Jesse Marsch of a first choice defender and midfielder.
Of the two, Collin is the bigger concern, both because New York has some depth in the midfield and because his injury appears more serious. The Frenchman is jogging this week ahead of returning to full training next week. That means he won’t be available for Saturday’s game against Philadelphia. He'll also miss next week's US Open Cup final against Sporting in Kansas City. If he’s out longer, it will put more pressure on Marsch to find a fix. Against the Fire, the Red Bulls went to a three-man back line.
Royer is training and will be back in the lineup as early as this weekend. As a bonus, New York could get Mike Grella back from a long injury layoff to help with the playoffs.
Out in Portland, the Timbers have been dealing without their top scoring forward, Fanendo Adi, their best defender, Liam Ridgewell, and their starting goalkeeper, Jake Gleeson. The win in New York City without the trio pushed the Timbers unbeaten streak to four and lifted them into first place in the Western Conference.
The ability to overcome injuries, to pick up points in spite of them, is often the difference between making the playoffs and not. It's also the difference between locking in a top two seed or playing a knockout round game. Portland is figuring it out. Still, the pressure to get Adi, Ridgewell, and Gleeson back is intense. All three are questionable heading into a trip to Real Salt Lake this weekend.
Darren Mattocks has been thrust into duty in Adi's stead and done well. That's a credit to the Timbers’ front office and their quest to acquire cover at the position last season.
There are more injuries coming. It’s the nature of the game. At some point between now and the postseason, a contender or two could lose one of their most important players. The question, as it always is, is whether it will upend a season. No one wants to be the FC Dallas of 2017.
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