When Sounders FC meets Real Salt Lake, it has typically been a clash of two of the best midfields in Major League Soccer.
This year promises to be no different as the two clubs prepare for their first battle of the 2013 season on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium and the Sounders may be bringing in reinforcements as Shalrie Joseph and Brad Evans returned to training on Monday. Mario Martinez and forwards Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins are also expected back on Thursday.
For Joseph, it was his first full training session since joining the club in a trade on February 19 as he rehabbed a calf strain. And he could not be more excited to help the Sounders in a big road challenge against Salt Lake on Saturday.
“I can’t explain in words how excited I am to get out there with the Sounders and wear the 21 on my back and represent these colors,” said Joseph, the eight-time MLS All-Star and four-time Best XI midfielder. “They took a chance on me and I want to repay that favor.”
Joseph has been anxious to make his debut for Seattle – so anxious, in fact, that he wanted to make his comeback before he was cleared to play.
In the last few weeks, though, he has done plenty of work with fitness coach Dave Tenney while letting his strained calf heal and rest under the guidance of Seattle’s training staff.
“I keep trying to rush it and come out so fast. That’s just me trying to get out there and prove myself and get along with these guys and play with these guys,” Joseph said. “I felt great this past weekend and finally I’m out here practicing with the guys. This week I’m looking forward to getting back my sharpness, getting back my touches on the ball and making sure we get back to winning games out there.”
Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid won’t rush to judgment on what his lineup might look like on Saturday, but the options are plentiful. Already this year, Schmid has been forced to use five different midfield combinations in Seattle’s first five matches because of injuries, suspensions and international duty.
He’s not in any rush to get the likes of Evans and Joseph back in the lineup too soon in light of the 0-2-1 start in MLS play.
“It’s important that we are healthy and that we’re playing well as we move forward in the season,” Schmid said. “To try and rush somebody back because we’re panicking and then have them suffer an injury that takes them out for a long period of time makes no sense.”
Joseph said that on Monday he felt “physically great” and aims to help the Sounders get over the hump for their first win of the MLS season.
“Hopefully I can make it out to Salt Lake, but I’ve got to take it one day at a time,” Joseph said after training. “Today was a great day for me. I worked hard, I feel great. Tomorrow is the same thing and I just have to keep working hard all week and make sure I’m ready when Sigi gives me the call.”
The Sounders will train on Tuesday and take Wednesday off before making final preparations for the matchup against Salt Lake on Thursday and Friday ahead of Saturday’s match at Rio Tinto Stadium.