Editorial — The Seattle Sounders have seen some shakeups on defense this year. Long gone are the days of Chad Marshall, the legendary MLS defender. With his retirement in the summer, Seattle has bounced around a few players on defense, specifically at centerback. However, one consistent presence remains.
The South Korean defender hasn’t featured in his sharpest season. However, it’s not been a downright bad season. Kim has games where he truly excels, and others where it just isn’t clicking. Maybe it’s due to partnerships or the language barrier. Despite any struggles, Seattle has finished in second place in the Western Conference.
They’re a top team, always looking to dominate the competition. Kim has been a consistent presence on defense, with the only time he’s been on the sideline is for injury to have his legs rested — i.e. during the Columbus match in July.
Kim has started 28 of his 29 appearances this MLS season. Seattle found themselves a diamond in the rough defender in the South Korean last year. Ever since he stepped foot in MLS, he’s seemingly taken over the centerback position. However, he’s been forced to move between right and left centerback multiple times this season. His teammates have noticed the switch, including goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
“Kim has been a warrior for us,” Frei said, after Sunday’s match against Minnesota. “My hat’s off to him, because he’s been forced to move wherever we need at centerback. Obviously he has his preferred role as well. He keeps his head down, works his butt off and puts in good performances. That’s the sign of a team player to me. He’s not going to throw a hissy fit if he has to play out of position.”
Who should start at centerback with Kim Kee-hee in the playoffs?
Centerback Case Study: Román Torres
There’s really not much this guy can’t do.
Román Torres was forced to sit out of 10 games toward the home stretch of the season due to violating the MLS Substance Abuse Policy. His suspension meant he couldn’t be around team activities, including practices and trainings. However, Torres worked hard on his own and reaped the rewards on Sunday.
He started alongside Kim and scored his first-ever MLS goal. The goal was exponentially huge, as the Sounders took control of second place with a win.
After the match, Torres reflected on missing those 10 games.
“It was very hard to be out of playing for about 10 games, but this is a demonstration that… I was keeping myself in good shape,” Torres said. “Thankfully, I was able to make this beautiful goal. I feel very happy to score.”
Torres is also a big-body player. He’s physical, and one of the tougher guys on the team. However, he has been prone to make some silly defending mistakes in the past. He has a tendency to slide tackle on plays that require you to stand tall and defend.
However, Torres does have experience — and that matters.
Experience is huge in the playoffs. No matter who you faced in the season prior, players can step up their game. There’s a different adrenaline to the playoffs. While there’s no indication to what Torres’ future with the Sounders is — we’ll get to that in a moment — there’s no doubt that he performs in big moments.
Just ask the Costa Ricans about that final World Cup qualifying match. Or, better yet, ask the American players.
Torres is my first-choice to start alongside Kim. The two have figured out communication, despite both of them not speaking the same language and knowing very little English.
Gifts from @romantorres05! 🤗🇵🇦 pic.twitter.com/DANti6WfKg
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) October 8, 2019
Centerback Case Study: Xavier Arreaga
Xavier Arreaga is the new kid on the block.
He was supposed to be the heralded successor of Chad Marshall. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Arreaga is still getting used to the level of play in MLS. He came over this summer from Barcelona SC in his native Ecuador. This is also his first time ever playing outside of his home country.
Arreaga has featured in 14 matches, starting 12, this season. The 25-year-old has also seen plenty of downside to his play, as he’s already accumulated two red cards during his time in Seattle. Nobody is writing Arreaga off as a starter. However, when it comes to the playoffs, you have to go with consistency and the hot hand.
There’s a chance that Arreaga could start. However, for me, it seems fairly slim.
Even in that regard, though, Arreaga will be a starter next year. He’s only dipping his toes into the water of MLS. He’ll take the offseason to know more about the league and his teammates. And, no doubt, he’ll have a much bigger role. There will be no Marshall to start out the season. Torres could very well have found his replacement in Arreaga. However, right now, Brian Schmetzer needs to go with the hot-handed Torres.
Centerback Case Study: Jonathan Campbell & Saad Abdul Salaam
Jonathan Campbell came over as a bit of a safety net for Seattle. He’s about in the same boat as Saad Abdul-Salaam. They both featured as starting defenders for their previous clubs, respectively. However, they know there are guys ahead of them on the Sounders depth chart.
Campbell has featured in a few matches for Tacoma Defiance, the Sounders’ USL Championship affiliate. However, in MLS play, his numbers are slim. The North Carolina native has only made four appearances — all starts — this MLS season.
Abdul-Salaam has received more minutes, making 18 appearances to total 1,062 minutes. He’s a player that you use when legs tend to get heavy.
MLS Cup Playoffs: FC Dallas
The first competition is against FC Dallas.
With the new MLS playoff format, all matches will be single-elimination with no aggregate scoring. Meanwhile, if a higher seed is facing a lower seed, they will automatically ensure hosting rights. There will be no re-seeding like previous years.
Seattle takes on FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field on Oct. 19 at 3:30 p.m. Television rights are still being worked out between matches. The winner will go on to face the winner of Portland vs. Real Salt Lake.
For now, the teams will see players head off to international break, hoping they come back healthy.
So much respect ⚽️🙏 pic.twitter.com/QbhdVfxTtv
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) October 7, 2019
PHOTO: Kim Kee-hee looks on against the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 29, 2019. Photo courtesy of Charis Wilson/Seattle Sounders FC.