TUKWILA – The Sounders concluded their final training session ahead of their flight to Chicago Thursday, yet not all pieces were in place for the match-up at 5:30 p.m. Saturday against the Fire.
Obafemi Martins is still recovering from a strained groin. He’s joined on the injury list by goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who sprained his left shoulder after an airborne collision and had to be subbed off against D.C. United Friday.
Not to mention the absences of Clint Dempsey, Brad Evans and Marco Pappa for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Still, winger/forward Lamar Neagle seemed confident of his team’s ability to perform on the road.
“I think we still have a lot of big leaders on the team, like (defenders) Chad Marshall and Zach Scott, and Ozzie (Alonso)’s back, so that helps us a lot,” said Neagle. “We have guys that can step up and lead for sure. Our depth is good.”
One facet of this depth is Troy Perkins, the 33-year-old keeper who relieved Frei against D.C. Perkins started 21 matches for Montreal last season and recorded five clean sheets. He squares off against a team (4-9-3) at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and has produced one goal in its last three outings.
As for Neagle, he continues to be deployed as a striker in the absence of Dempsey and Martins. Away from his usual role on the wing, his speed and maneuverability have been limited by opposing center-backs working in tandem to help keep him contained. Fellow forward Chad Barrett’s recent return from injury has drawn off some of the pressure, but Seattle (10-7-2) has struggled to connect on the final ball in recent fixtures.
“You could see after (the D.C. match), where there were a few opportunities where it might have made the difference,” Neagle said. “It’s kind of like that last shot or that last pass (against D.C.), where we could have had a ton of goals right off the start. It’s the one point in our game that we needed to step up.”
Neagle, who has scored more league goals than any other player able to start this weekend, may have his job made easier by some of Chicago’s injury woes. Center-back and team captain Jeff Larentowicz is expected to miss an extended period of time after an MRI revealed a herniated disk in his neck earlier this week.
Fellow defenders Adaílton and Joevin Jones will also be absent, with the former nursing a groin injury and the latter serving on international duty. Chicago’s back line will be bolstered, however, by the recent acquisition of Ty Harden, who was procured in a trade with San Jose late last month.
Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid emphasized execution as the key factor.
“We just need more of what we saw in the first 30-35 minutes against D.C.,” he said. “When we were playing even, the first 30 minutes I thought we were dominating the game and getting the ball forward. So now it’s a matter of taking that domination and taking those chances created and turning them into goals.”
Still, Schmid claimed that he wasn’t looking past the Fire.
“Every game that they’ve played has been very close,” said Schmid. “It means that they’re in every game — it’s going to be a dog fight.”