Sounders need a few big plays from big 3 in do-or-die game

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comNovember 6, 2013 

Obafemi Martins, center, of the Sounders controls the ball during a match in July. An ankle injury kept Martins off the field in late August, and he is now recovering from a groin injury.

PETER HALEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

When Seattle Sounders FC signed designated player Clint Dempsey on Aug. 3, the club envisioned a three-pronged attack featuring Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins.

In 16 games since, those three have never started alongside each other, and have shared the pitch a total of 15 minutes.

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid suggested that total might grow Thursday when Seattle faces the do-or-die second leg of its Western Conference semifinal series at Portland.

“Oba got through what we wanted him to get through,” Schmid said Tuesday after training. “Stepped it up from (Monday), so that was really, really encouraging. … We’re as healthy as we can be right now.”

The Sounders’ trouble getting the three players on the field together started with their first game.

It has remained a hair-pulling exercise almost three months later.

Dempsey made his Sounders debut on Aug. 10, but he came on in place of Martins, who suffered an ankle injury. Martins then missed the next four games, and when he returned Sept. 7, Johnson was away on international duty.

Johnson returned Sept. 13, and that marked the only time the three players played together. Martins started and scored in what turned out to be a 2-0 win against Real Salt Lake. Dempsey came off the bench in the 61st minute, and Johnson completed the triumvirate in the 75th minute. The victory sent Seattle to the top of Major League Soccer.

However, Dempsey missed the next three matches due to a hamstring injury. When he returned Oct. 9, Johnson was away with the national team, again. While away, Johnson suffered a groin injury, and didn’t return to the Sounders’ lineup until Oct. 27 – the final game of the regular season. But by then, Martins was out with the groin injury that also kept him out of the first two playoff matches, but he might return Thursday.

“I think him on the field for us is always a plus because his speed can create danger, and his quickness and so forth,” Schmid said of Martins. “So we’ll just have to see if he’s ready.”

Martins was not made available to the media this week, which is regular club policy with injured players.

However, Johnson and Dempsey both spoke about what the Sounders might be able to accomplish at full strength.

Johnson: “When Oba’s out there, and Clint, no one wants to play against us three. Hopefully we’re all out on the pitch this coming game, and we’re going to put on a good display and give ourselves a good opportunity to advance to the next round.”

Dempsey: “He’s one of our DPs. He has a lot of quality, and he has a lot of experience. If he’s available to play, then that’ll be great. You’d like to see … what’s going to be that best 11 that we can put on the field.”

Johnson leads the Sounders with nine goals, and Martins is right behind with eight. Dempsey didn’t score his first goal until the regular-season finale against the L.A. Galaxy, and he followed with his first assist in the playoff win over Colorado.

With their season on the line, the Sounders stressed they’ll need more than one player to step up – everyone needs to step up.

“Eddie’s got to use his strengths, Clint’s got to use his strengths, and I’ve got to use mine – and it’s got to be all-out for 90 minutes,” Brad Evans said. “But that goes for everybody. There isn’t, like, one person who’s a weak link or anything like that. Everybody’s strong. … It’s not fair to put it on certain players’ shoulders, but at the same time, guys like us have been in this situation before and if we don’t (produce) we kind of look like pansies. So we have to step up and take it on our shoulders. We’ve gone far too long without getting to that next-next level.”

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt

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