All eyes will be on Dempsey, Sounders and, uh, other team

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comAugust 10, 2013 

Oh yeah, the other guys.

The expected Seattle Sounders FC debut of U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey on Saturday has been so glaringly in the spotlight this week that it has been easy to forget the team the Sounders will line up against.

That team is Toronto FC, and the Reds are feeling pretty good about themselves these days. They started the season 1-7-5, but they’re 2-0-1 over their past three.

The recent success sends them into this match as something more than the Washington Generals — the perennial patsies for the Harlem Globetrotters, the necessary “other guys” against whom the real stars can show their stuff.

“Toronto’s won their last two games, so they’re feeling very confident,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “So that’s something where you can’t look at a game that early into the season and look at a game now because they’re so vastly different, and they have stepped up. I know that (Matias) Laba scored a good goal for them last week against New England. (Robert) Earnshaw hasn’t really been there lately, (but Richard) Eckersley has done well for them in the back and solidified the back line with (Steven) Caldwell moving in

as one of the center backs. … It’s an opponent that we have to be very careful of.”

OK, but enough about them.

The real reason eyes across Major League Soccer will be fixed on a match between the ninth-place team in the East and the seventh-place team in the West is Dempsey — who was introduced one week ago as the Sounders’ newest designated player and the league’s highest-paid player.

Dempsey missed Tuesday training due to illness, but he was back Wednesday, traveled with the team Thursday and seems certain to make his Sounders debut Saturday at BMO Field.

“It was good to get training just to work on a couple things,” Dempsey said. “There’s a lot of quality on this team, and I’m just looking forward to getting to know the team better, and helping the team do well. … Sigi’s is the boss, so he’ll make the decision.”

Schmid said he expects Dempsey to play, but probably not 90 minutes. He wasn’t ready to say if Dempsey will start and come off early or make his Sounders debut off the bench.

The coach also was vague on how he plans to incorporate Dempsey into an increasingly healthy club that has gone 2-0-1 over its past three with its front two lines already accommodating forwards Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson and midfielders Mauro Rosales, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans and Lamar Neagle.

“He’s going to be on the attacking part of the field, and he’s a player that will orchestrate the game for us,” Schmid said of Dempsey. “But he’s also a player that can finish. He’s going to be a very vital cog to our game, and our game is going to flow through him, in certain aspects. And, it’s going to be important for him to spread the ball to the Obas and the Eddies and the Neagles and all the other people on the field who need the ball at the right time.”

Even in his first training session, Dempsey impressed his teammates with the talent that has made him the second-leading goal scorer in U.S. national team history and the highest-scoring American in English Premier League history.

“He finishes everything,” said All-Star rookie defender DeAndre Yedlin, who surrendered his No. 2 jersey to Dempsey. “There was a drill, and Sigi was telling us to get in for rebounds. I was his partner, and I didn’t even go in for rebounds because I knew it was going to go in anyway. He finishes everything. It’s amazing. I’ve never really seen anything like it.”

SOUNDERS GAMEDAY

SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (9-7-4; 31 POINTS) AT TORONTO FC (4-10-8; 20 POINTS)

4 p.m., BMO Field, Toronto. TV: Ch. 6/16. Radio: 97.3 FM.

Head to head: Seattle leads 5-1-1 and has won the past four meetings.

Notes: Newly signed designated player Clint Dempsey is expected to make his Sounders debut. … Both teams are 2-0-1 over their past three games. … Toronto is 2-3-6 at home but is unbeaten over its past three home matches. Seattle is 3-6-1 on the road. … Toronto is last in the 19-team league in shots and shots on target, 18th in goals and 17th in goals per game and goal differential. … EPL veteran Robert Earnshaw leads the Reds with six goals. Designated player Danny Koevermans (calf) is questionable. … Toronto is 0-5-2 against Western Conference teams. … The Reds are in their first season under coach Ryan Nelson. … Sounders No. 1 goalkeeper Michael Gspurning trained this week and could be ready to return for the first time since injuring his left forearm in the July 13 game at San Jose. … Seattle’s all-time record in August is 10-4-4. … Sounders Eddie Johnson, Djimi Traore and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado are each one caution away from a one-game suspension for accumulation. … The assigned referee is Mark Geiger.

Quotable: “It’s a team that plays a pretty standard 4-4-2. They work pretty hard, reasonably direct in their approach and style of play. And even though they haven’t gotten a lot of wins, they are not an easy team to beat because they make the game a little bit difficult and take the tempo of the game out a little bit.” — Sounders coach Sigi Schmid on Toronto

Next: At Houston Dynamo, 6 p.m. Aug. 17.

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com

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