Saturday marks not only a new day for the Seattle Sounders, but a new month.
At the end of a dreadful July that saw Seattle go 1-3, score one goal and tumble unnervingly near the MLS playoff red line, the Sounders seemed eager to turn the calendar to what they believe will be a better August, starting Saturday night with the Vancouver Whitecaps’ visit to CenturyLink Field.
“It’s a big game for us because obviously July wasn’t a good month,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “So we can’t wait for Aug. 1 to come around and for us to get into a new month. We’re happy to be at home, we’re happy to be in front of a big stadium. We know that prior to this run that we were the highest-scoring team in this league and we were the team that had the best possession as well in the league, and we want to get back to being that team as soon as we can.”
Some of the Sounders’ reason for optimism was on display Friday at Starfire Sports Complex, as Clint Dempsey returned to training after spending most of July with the United States national team and then All-Star duty. Dempsey was suspended for three MLS games in late June after he ripped up the notebook of a referee during a June 16 U.S. Open Cup game against Portland.
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“I think we have some new blood that’s come in,” Dempsey said. “Also we have (Obafemi Martins) getting close to fitness. I just think getting everybody together, having that competition for spots is just going to make the team be a little bit more sharp.”
Martins remains questionable with a leg injury. However, indications point to availability for central defender Brad Evans, who returned this week from national team duty; goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who has been out with a shoulder injury; and central defender Chad Marshall, also back from the All-Star Game.
“It was fun,” Marshall said. “It’s obviously nice to get on the field with some of those players, to play 5-v-2 with David Villa and Kaka is something you’ll always remember. ... I kind of just treat (my 45 minutes in the All-Star Game) as a practice session, and it’s not too bad of a flight — two-hour flight — so I feel good.”
Several Sounders noted added energy Friday, when they trained as close to full strength as they have since June, when they reigned atop the MLS standings.
“It’s good to have Dempsey back and to have Marshall back,” Schmid said. “It just lifts the mood of the whole group. … Obviously, there’s a confidence in those guys. (Friday was) a light practice, and we were pretty sharp in what we were going and hopefully that carries over.”
The Sounders’ 1-6 slump has dropped them six points behind Supporters’ Shield co-leaders D.C. United and FC Dallas, and just three points ahead of Real Salt Lake, which is seventh in the Western Conference — the first spot that doesn’t qualify for the playoffs.
Yet, as Schmid assembles his roster he must also weigh the Sounders-Whitecaps rematch Wednesday at BC Place in the CONCACAF Champions League opener for both clubs.
“At the end of the day our big goal is still MLS Cup,” Schmid said. “Champions League is not unimportant. It’s a very big goal for us, and we’ll shuffle the lineup as we see fit. We got a Champions League game between the Vancouver and the L.A. game (Aug. 9), so we’ll have to adjust for that.”
This game also figures in — and could resolve — the 2015 Cascadia Cup. The Sounders (2-1) come in one point ahead of Vancouver (1-1-2) and Portland (1-2-2) and would clinch the competition with a win Saturday.
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SEATTLE SOUNDERS (10-10-2; 32 POINTS) VS. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (11-8-3; 36 POINTS)
7 p.m. Saturday, CenturyLink Field.
TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 97.3-FM.
Head to head: The MLS series is even 4-4-4 overall, and 2-2-1 in Seattle. The Sounders won, 2-0, on May 16 in Vancouver, with Chad Barrett scoring both goals. The teams face each other in CONCACAF Champions League group play Wednesday in Vancouver and Sept. 23 in Seattle. They conclude their 2015 MLS series Sept. 19 in Vancouver.
Notes: Seattle designated player Clint Dempsey is expected to return to the lineup for the first time since the U.S. Open Cup loss to Portland on June 16. Dempsey is tied with Obafemi Martins for the club lead with seven goals and is the assists leader with six. Also expected is central defender Brad Evans after national team duty kept him out since the MLS loss at Portland on June 28. Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei could return for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against D.C. United on July 3. Forward Obafemi Martins (leg) remains doubtful. Left back Leo Gonzalez (hamstring) and midfielder Marco Pappa (MLS substance abuse program) are out. … Vancouver midfielder Mauro Rosales (groin), who played in Seattle 2011-13, traveled but is doubtful. … The Sounders have lost six of their past seven games. The Whitecaps are 1-2-1 over their past four. … Seattle is 7-3-1 at home; the Whitecaps are 6-4-2 away. … Vancouver’s goals leader is Octavio Rivero (eight). … This will be Seattle’s first home match of the season played with CenturyLink stadium opened to full capacity. More than 50,000 tickets have been sold. … The referee is Mark Geiger, who handled Mexico’s controversial win over Panama in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal on July 22.
Quote: “I’m ready to go. So, whatever role they want to put me in. In terms of how many minutes, it doesn’t matter. I’m just going to go out there and push, try and help the team win. Looking forward to this push toward the end of the year.” — Dempsey on his availability.
Next: The Sounders and Whitecaps open CCL play at 7 p.m. Wednesday at BC Place in Vancouver. Seattle returns to MLS play Aug. 9 at Los Angeles.