Sunday night is bound to be about as electric as CenturyLink Field has ever been for a Sounders FC match, as over 66,500 fans are expected in attendance when Seattle hosts the Portland Timbers in a nationally televised match on ESPN2.
The match features two playoff-battling teams, but also is expected to mark the home debut of Clint Dempsey and very well could be the first opportunity he has to play with both Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins, giving Head Coach Sigi Schmid a lethal triumvirate of attackers at his disposal.
Two weeks ago, Dempsey subbed on for an injured Martins in a 2-1 win over Toronto FC. Last week, Dempsey was the only one of the three available, as Johnson served a one-match suspension for yellow card accumulation and Martins nursed an ankle injury. Getting them all onto the field together and playing cohesively is a new task for Schmid as Seattle vies for a playoff spot in a competitive Western Conference race.
“We haven’t really had the opportunity to play all three of them at the same time. We just have to figure it out,” Schmid said. “You don’t know until you stick them out there in a game for sure and see what everybody’s tendencies become and what they do or don’t do when pressure hits. That’s when you can really tell whether it will work in a certain formation or not. That’s something that’s still ahead of us.”
Johnson and Dempsey trained together on Tuesday and Wednesday, reuniting the former teammates on the U.S. U-20 and senior national team levels, as well as with Fulham in England.
“In training it’s been good. It’s good to have him back because he’s a player that’s dynamic and he scores goals,” Dempsey said. “It takes pressure off you as a team because players have to worry about his speed and the way he is in front of the goal. The more quality players you have on the field, the easier it makes it for everybody else.”
Meanwhile, Martins worked on the side on Wednesday and Schmid indicated that he expected to have him available for Sunday’s match against Portland and that he was ahead of schedule in his recovery. He will be re-evaluated on Thursday and his workload will be adjusted for Friday’s training session.
While getting the trio on the field together ideally would have been done earlier in the season, there are still plenty of matches left in the season for them to adjust to each other.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re 22 games in and we’ve got to try and figure that out,” Schmid said. “But it’s fortunate that we have enough talent that if we figure it out, it should be good.”
Additionally, Osvaldo Alsono and Djimi Traore both took it easy on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Schmid expects both to be available on Sunday.
“They’re all in consideration for the game,” Schmid said. “That’s why we’ve done the training the way we’ve done it this week. We want to make sure they’re ready to play on Sunday.”