Sounders enter first-place showdown with Sporting KC healthy and riding 7-game unbeaten streak

The Sounders, riding a seven-game unbeaten streak, head in to a first-place showdown Saturday with Sporting Kansas City looking as deep and healthy as they’ve been all season.

About a week ago, Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey knew he had gone “all in” on Paraguayan midfielder Derlis Gonzalez.

With just days to go until the international transfer deadline, it was too late for Lagerwey to start pursuing other impact performers worthy of designated-player money as a fallback in case Dynamo Kiev star Gonzalez didn’t work out. But Lagerwey was reconciled to his all-or-nothing approach, even when talks over Gonzalez ultimately fell apart Wednesday: Feeling the Sounders already worthy of another run at an MLS Cup title.

So, when Dynamo Kiev wouldn’t budge on Gonzalez, Lagerwey refused to panic. Sure, he had Plan B types lined up he could have thrown the Gonzalez money at. But none was of Gonzalez’s talent level, nor, in Lagerwey’s thinking, looking like a difference-maker on an already strong club.

“We had multiple backup plans, but ultimately we chose not to exercise those,” Lagerwey said. “Because from our perspective, a DP decision is a three- to five-year decision that has long-term implications for the franchise. Given the position of strength that we believe we are in — in terms of the strength of our club roster — we didn’t want to compromise our standards.”

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Sounders fans will get an early taste of how close Lagerwey’s assessment is to reality when the team plays host Saturday to first-place Sporting Kansas City in a battle of Western Conference powers. The Sounders are unbeaten in the past seven games, have not allowed a goal in their past three contests and sit just three points behind the visitors in a four-way tie for second place.

And though Lagerwey didn’t add another designated player, as he did a year ago with Nicolas Lodeiro, he did acquire Targetted Allocation Money right back Kelvin Leerdam and midfielder Victor Rodriguez. As the transfer deadline neared, he secured veteran midfield depth via trades to land Lamar Neagle from D.C. United and Calum Mallace from Montreal for fourth-round draft picks in 2018 and 2019.

Since the end of last year, Lagerwey has injected youth in an aging roster, importing 13 players either starting their careers or entering their prime. After a slow start to the season, the…

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