Second match of the season with Toronto to provide Sounders with stiff test

Sounders FC vs. Toronto FC
MLS Regular Season
Saturday, March 15; 1:30 pm PT; CenturyLink Field
TV/Radio: Q13 FOX (Local); NBC Sports Network (National); KIRO Radio 97.3 FM; ESPN Deportes Radio (Spanish); THIS-TV (Spanish); TSN (Canada)

Two teams that underwent major changes heading into the 2014 season will square off at CenturyLink Field on Saturday afternoon when Sounders FC hosts Toronto FC in the second match of the season for Seattle and the first for the visitors from Canada.

However, the two sides are coming from completely different places – Seattle as a five-time MLS Cup Playoffs participant and Toronto is still seeking its first postseason appearance since joining MLS in 2007. So while Seattle was able to add players to complement an existing core that has proven successful, Toronto underwent a total restructuring of the organization that has left it peppered with stars throughout the lineup, but riddled with questions as to how the changes will translate on the field.

“They’ve got some fine players,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “Michael Bradley is a guy who can orchestrate the game from the midfield. Jermain Defoe has been a goalscorer for many, many, many years in the Premiership. He’s quick and he’s fast. He works hard. Gilberto is another player with good experience who is technically very sound.”

Head Coach Ryan Nelsen likely won’t have Gilberto available against Seattle, though. The Brazilian forward reportedly didn’t travel with his new club while recovering from preseason injuries and working on his fitness.

Toronto did more than just add three Designated Players. The 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario returned to his hometown team after a disappointing season with D.C. United last year. Former FC Dallas midfielder Jackson adds speed on the wing opposite Alvaro Rey and goalkeeper Julio Cesar gives Toronto a veteran presence in net and a player striving to optimize the months leading up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

“They have a number of different offensive weapons they can use,” Schmid said. “The grouping is new, but a lot of those players are players that our team knows and are familiar with.”

In addition to Rey, Toronto also returns young midfielder Jonathan Osorio and has a defense that features veteran Steven Caldwell and newcomer Justin Morrow, who was an All-Star with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2012.

For all that Toronto has added, though, Sounders FC is doggedly focused on finding its own cohesion.

The first step came last week when Sounders FC earned a dramatic 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field. Part of the next step is incorporating Clint Dempsey into the lineup. The U.S. National Team captain played over 30 minutes against Kansas City after playing 90 minutes for Fulham in his final match on loan on March 1 against Chelsea and then for the U.S. National Team against Ukraine on March 5, giving him just one training session before playing March 8.

Like his teammates, Dempsey is looking to take the next step in building the strongest possible Seattle team.

“We’re looking to build upon the three points we got last weekend and hopefully we can continue in that fashion,” Dempsey said.

Sounders FC has won the last five matchups with Toronto and is 6-1-1 overall.

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