By JASON MITCHELL
The Seattle Sounders (10-7-4, 34 points) head into the weekend tied with the Los Angeles Galaxy for the fifth and final Western Conference playoff spot, rounding into form just as they add Clint Dempsey and finally return to a semblance of full strength.
The lightest schedule in the league paired with a franchise-worst 0-3-2 collapse out of the gate and a 1-3-1 stretch earlier this summer all belie a crackling 1.62 points-per-game average, good for second best in the conference and third best in the entire league.
Riding a three-game win streak, Seattle now trails Real Salt Lake in the Supporters’ Shield race by just seven points with three games in hand.
Decimated by injuries and international call-ups for much of the year, Seattle also finds itself relatively healthy just in time for the regular season’s home stretch.
Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning looks set to return for Saturday’s match against the Houston Dynamo (9-7-6, 33 points) after missing four games with a wrist injury. Steve Zakuani, out since April with a sports hernia, returned to full practice for the first time this week. No other key players have serious injuries.
Here are some more stories to keep you up to speed on the Sounders:
DEMPSEY LIKELY TO START, MINUS MARTINS AND JOHNSON
Clint Dempsey looks set to make his first start for the Sounders on Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, and the location couldn’t be better.
“Texas is where it all began for me,” the Nacogdoches, Texas, native said in team-supplied quotes. “It gave me the opportunity to play club ball and to accomplish my dreams, so I owe a lot to where I’m from.”
The Sounders might be getting healthy, but a suspension and a minor injury paired with an apparent family obligation will keep Sounders fans from seeing the now-vaunted Seattle attack on full display in Houston.
Eddie Johnson will miss the match with yellow card accumulation following a controversial call in Toronto last weekend. Referee Mark Geiger carded Johnson for diving near the penalty area, but replays seemed to show a TFC defender making contact and stepping on the forward’s foot. Yellow cards are not subject to appeal.
It’s unclear whether Johnson would have been available anyway after starting a midweek match in Europe for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Obafemi Martins is formally listed as questionable for Saturday’s match with an ankle injury he picked up against Toronto last weekend. But a tweet the Nigerian sent out Friday afternoon seemed to preclude playing anywhere in the U.S. this weekend.
“Back home to celebrate my late Dad,mum n brother…It hurts to remember how you guys left but God loves you more,” read the tweet.
ROSALES HEATING UP
After a slow start to the season and an eight-game stretch without a goal or assist, Mauro Rosales has helped fuel Seattle’s current three-game win streak. The Argentine midfielder has a goal and three assists in wins over Chivas USA, FC Dallas, and Toronto FC.
The 32-year-old Designated Player led the team with 13 assists each of the last two seasons and has only five this year with just 13 games left on the schedule. But he is finding form at the right time, has never had more talent to feed in Seattle, and looked to pair well with Dempsey last week as Seattle’s newest DP repeatedly found Rosales in space out wide.
“A good player will use his time and space, and Mauro is a good player,” Schmid said this week in team-provided quotes. “A player who’s not as talented, if you give him time and space and he’ll show you he’s not so good.”
Think the Sounders have a legitimate shot at the Supporters’ Shield? Excited to see Dempsey’s first start, even without Johnson and Martins? Think Rosales continues his fine form into the fall?
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