Dempsey back with Sounders in time for MLS season opener

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comMarch 7, 2014 

Seattle Sounders FC continues preparing its roster for the Major League Soccer season opener with new signings and word from coach Sigi Schmid that designated player Clint Dempsey “will play a role” Saturday at home against Sporting Kansas City.

Dempsey was scheduled to be back in the Northwest on Thursday after concluding his two-month loan to Fulham of the English Premier League. He played the full 90 minutes Wednesday in the U.S. national team’s 2-0 loss to Ukraine in Cyprus.

Schmid said he believes Dempsey can quickly fit in with the club despite missing all of its preseason training.

“We know him,” Schmid said. “ ... We’ve got a lot of guys now that have played with him. Last year, really nobody had played with him, except (Eddie Johnson, now with D.C. United, and Brad Evans) in terms of international team experience. I think that makes it a lot easier.”

Last season, including the playoffs, Dempsey had one goal and one assist in 12 games with Seattle. He failed to score while in and out of the Fulham lineup, but Schmid maintained his faith that Dempsey, 30, will bring all of the qualities the Sounders sought when they signed him in August as MLS’ highest-paid player.

“He doesn’t have to be a magic man every time he steps on the field,” Schmid said. “He’s got to be Clint Dempsey, and Clint Dempsey can do things that affect the game and impact the game, and make plays by playing the way he normally plays.

“And so right now, I think everybody has these super-high expectations, and it’s a little bit unfair because he’s been in difficult situations. Coming here without a preseason and jumping into an MLS season in the middle of the year is difficult.”

Joining Fulham at the start of its season without preseason training also could have been difficult for Dempsey, but Schmid believes the loan to EPL club was worthwhile.

“It was a determination of what everybody felt would be the best situation in conjunction with ourselves, with him, with the national team, with everything,” Schmid said. “So for him, it was good because it allowed him to get fit and get game time in. So I’m not worried about his fitness. I’m only worried about his fitness when you’re asking him to play three games in a week across continents.”

Meanwhile, the Sounders announced Thursday the signings of two midfielders who had been training with the club: Michael Azira, a Uganda native who played the past two seasons with the Charleston Battery of USL-Pro, and Fabio Pereira, the 77th and final pick of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.

“Fabio … made our team, and he made our team because of his effort,” Schmid said. “He’s like a big sponge, and he wants to learn all the time. Technically, he’s very clean. He’s a good player, loves to play the game. He’s enthusiastic. I think he’s got a good future.

“Michael Azira is ... a midfielder who I think can play in (Osvaldo Alonso’s) role if needed. He can also play more attacking as well. ... He can be strong on the tackle. He’s good with the ball. He’s very simple.”

One day earlier, the Sounders announced the signing of midfielder Gonzalo Pineda, 31. The veteran of Mexico’s Liga MX has 32 caps with the Mexico national team.

“I’m very glad to be here and to sign with (the) Sounders,” he said Thursday after training at CenturyLink Field. “This is a new challenge in my career, and this is a pretty good opportunity to me to find out what can I do in a new country, in a new league.”

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 @donruiztnt

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