TUKWILA—Despite losing six of their last seven matches, the Seattle Sounders at training Friday seemed mentally and physically prepared for the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday. The return of Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans from national team duty, along with keeper Stefan Frei’s resumption of training after he sprained his shoulder July 3, are big confidence boosters for a club looking to stop its mid-season skid.
“It’s good to have them back,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid While Dempsey’s return was delayed by the MLS All-Star game Wednesday and he and fellow All-Star Chad Marshall did not train until Friday with the squad, Schmid claimed that his players’ return had a positive effect:
“It lifts the mood of the whole group. There’s a confidence in those guys, and we looked pretty sharp in what we were doing, so hopefully that carries over to tomorrow.”
Vancouver makes the trip down I-5 bringing a lofty position in the Western Conference with them. The Whitecaps sit two points shy of first place in the Supporters’ Shield race with an 11-8-3 record.
Leading Vancouver’s charge in the standings are forward Octavio Rivero (8G, 3A) and midfielder Pedro Morales (3G, 4A), part of balanced attack that has seen 12 players score this season. The Sounders, by contrast, have seven players who have converted, three of whom—Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, and Marco Pappa—have missed significant time in July.
Martins is unlikely to make his return Saturday. The forward and joint lead-scorer injured his groin in mid-June, and has not played since. Certain to miss the match is Pappa, still barred from playing pending a league investigation into the midfielder’s arrest for DUI after a home loss to Colorado July 18.
According to the Seattle Times, the police report stated that Pappa’s BAC was over twice the legal limit. It would come as no surprise if Pappa was sent to a rehab program just as Philadelphia Union striker C.J. Sapong underwent in May.
Dempsey’s return may provide a spark to a squad that has scored two goals since June 20. The Texas native scored seven goals for the U.S. in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Seattle, which has struggled to finish offensive chances in July, hope that Dempsey’s production continues.
Evans may likewise prove a boon. The midfielder rejoins a defensive unit that has surrendered game-deciding goals in the final 10 minutes of each of its last three matches.
“Every game from here on out is extremely important,” Evans said Monday. “We meet (Vancouver) four times (in the next two months), so it’s going to be a difficult task. You play somebody that much, you know the ins and outs, so it’s extremely important to get three points at home this weekend.”
Schmid said he was keeping his squad focused on the league clash with Vancouver on Saturday, rather than the CONCACAF Champions League meeting with the Whitecaps in Vancouver Aug. 5.
“We’re just looking at one game at a time, so this is the one Saturday,” he said. “It’s at home, it’s in front of our crowd, so we want to put on a good showing and get the points at home.”
Also at stake are points in the 2015 Cascadia Cup among Seattle, Vancouver, and the Portland Timbers. The Sounders top the standings with six points through three games (out of a total of six), while the Whitecaps and Timbers each have five after playing four and five of their matches, respectively. Seattle has not won the cup since 2011, while Vancouver is looking to claim its third in a row.