This is the kind of matchup Major League Soccer had in mind when it created the designated player rule: The Los Angeles Galaxy, featuring Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos, against the Seattle Sounders, with Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and newly signed Nelson Valdez.
The problem is that while all that Galaxy star power is expected to be on the pitch Sunday at StubHub Center in Carson, California, it remains mere intriguing potential for the Sounders.
Valdez — whose signing was announced Friday — is not expected to don his new uniform until next weekend. Martins has missed six consecutive league matches with a leg injury, and Seattle coach Sigi Schmid didn’t rule out that stretch running to seven. Dempsey — who returned to the lineup at the start of the month after being away with the U.S. national team and MLS All-Star duty — seems the surest bet, but he left Friday training early in what Schmid called a precautionary move.
Meanwhile, the Galaxy is expected to showcase Keane, the reigning MVP of MLS, while former Liverpool midfielder Gerrard is expected to make his fourth start for L.A., and Mexican national team midfielder Dos Santos makes his MLS debut.
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“L.A. has been on a very, very good roll,” Schmid said. “They’ve shown themselves to be very dangerous at home. They’re integrating a couple of new players. I’m sure they’re figuring out how that all fits together, as well. But they’ve got a very talented side.”
The Galaxy has been evolving successfully, winning three of its last four league matches and its CONCACAF Champions League opener on Thursday, when Dos Santos appeared for the first time.
The Sounders have lost seven of their past eight league matches — mostly coinciding with the absences of Dempsey and Martins. They were encouraged, though, by a 1-1 draw in CCL play Wednesday at Vancouver.
“It was guys who were hungry for minutes, hungry to show the coaches that they wanted more playing time,” Seattle veteran Zach Scott said. “I don’t think there’s one guy out there who should hang their head: A 1-1 result in Vancouver is a good result. I think it’s baby steps forward at this point.”
Schmid noted renewed energy in training after that draw, and he hopes it continues Sunday, when some of those reserves will once again be needed.
“Obviously, you’d feel a lot better if you were going down there with your full-strength team,” he said. “But at the end of the day, that’s not the way it is. … You’ve got the guys we have and those guys are going to perform well.”
Any meeting of the full-strength Sounders against the full-strength Galaxy might have to wait until their final regular-season game on Oct. 4 in Seattle, or for the postseason.
But the potential power of the two clubs reminded former MLS star and current Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson of how much the league has grown over its 20 seasons. “To see where the league has come since ’96 with regard to facilities and players; to see the amount of stars that are on these rosters — and throughout the league, really — is exciting,” he said. “I feel like I was part of building something really exciting, and to still be part of it in some ways makes me really happy.”
LOS ANGELES GALAXY (10-7-7; 37 POINTS) VS. SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (10-11-2; 32)
1 P.M. SUNDAY, STUBHUB CENTER; CARSON, CALIFORNIA
TV: ESPN. RADIO: 97.3 FM.
HEAD TO HEAD: Los Angeles leads the regular-season series 7-4-5 overall and 4-1-3 at home. The Sounders are winless in their last seven visits. The teams split 1-1-1 last season before the Galaxy eliminated Seattle in the Western Conference final. In the first meeting this season, the Galaxy took a 1-0 home win. The teams will meet again Oct. 4 in Seattle.
NOTES: Seattle is expected to get its first look at new Galaxy designated players Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos. However, neither newly signed Sounder — midfielder Andres Ivanschitz and DP forward Nelson Valdez — is expected to appear. … The Sounders also will be without midfielders Osvaldo Alonso (hamstring) and Marco Pappa (league substance abuse program). Forward Obafemi Martins (leg) is questionable. Forward Clint Dempsey left training early Friday, but coach Sigi Schmid called that was precautionary. … Lamar Neagle scored a goal in Seattle’s CONCACAF Champions League draw Wednesday at Vancouver. However, the Sounders have been shut out in their last four MLS games — a streak of 362 scoreless minutes. Seattle lost all four of those games and has lost seven of its last eight. … L.A. has won three of its last four games and five of its last seven. The Galaxy is 9-1-2 at home this season, outscoring its opponents 28-7. The Sounders are 3-7-1 on the road. … Longtime Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts is back after stints at Montreal, Portland and Orlando. … The referee will be Jair Marrufo.
QUOTE: “How exactly they’re going to play is a little bit up in the air. The one week they played a 4-2-3-1. Last week, they went back into a 4-4-2. They won with one, they lost with the other, so what are they going to stay with? Last (Thursday) night, they played a 4-4-2, but they played reserve players. So we’ll see what they bring.” — Schmid on the Galaxy.
NEXT: Orlando City SC, 2 p.m. Aug. 16, CenturyLink Field.