Ianni returns to mix with Sounders

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TUKWILA, Wash. — Patrick Ianni knew his healing foot wasn’t ready, but he still wanted to play.

He couldn’t take the waiting.

The Sounders FC defender had come into the 2013 season with a new contract and personal expectations of having a career year. He put extra work into his offseason regimen. He came out flying in training camp.

Then, during a routine fitness test in January, Ianni fractured his right foot. The freak injury cost him nearly five months of the season, but the long wait to get back on the field ended Sunday as the 28-year-old made his season debut in Sunday’s 2-1 comeback win against Chivas USA.

“I tried to stay as patient as possible, but it was tough for me,” said Ianni, whose last game was Sept. 22. “I just had to keep pushing forward and have faith that I was going to get back out there.”

The turning point in Ianni’s recovery came a few weeks ago when he got a cortisone shot in his foot. The pain left, certain movements felt better and performance improved in practice.

Coach Sigi Schmid noticed and said he started Ianni against Chivas USA on a hunch.

“He’s been sitting on the shelf for a long time,” Schmid said, “so I figured it was time to dust him off and get him on the field and see if he still knew how to play.”

Ianni’s return is a nice boost to a center-back position that, like the whole team, has seen some turnover. Two-time Defender of the Year Jeff Parke was traded to Philadelphia in the offseason, and while newcomer Djimi Traore has proved an able replacement, the other central defender spot has been somewhat in flux.

Jhon Kennedy Hurtado has been inconsistent and unable to hold on to a starting role. Zach Scott can fill in when needed, but isn’t expected to be a long-term solution in the back.

And while Ianni is one of seven Sounders remaining from the inaugural 2009 season, he’ll still need some time to adjust to playing with new additions like Traore and rookie right-back DeAndre Yedlin, who is in Kansas City for the MLS All-Star Game.

“I’m just learning how I can complement some of the guys around me,” Ianni said, “so that part of it was new and fun.”

Sounders get help

Beating Chivas USA was just one part of a great weekend for the Sounders. Four teams ahead of Seattle in the Western Conference lost Saturday: Real Salt Lake, Portland, Vancouver and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The Sounders have played fewer games than everyone else in the conference, but their point-per-game average is right in the mix for a playoff position.

“It’s not just a two-horse race anymore,” said midfielder Brad Evans. “There are six or seven teams that are fighting for five spots.”

Though Schmid warned the team’s “games in hand don’t mean anything unless you get points. Now we have to go out next week and get three points again.”

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