By JASON MITCHELL
Clint Dempsey played more than 90 minutes in Cyprus for the United States Men’s National team on Wednesday, arrived in Seattle on Thursday, and joined the team for practice on Friday.
Despite the travel and the short turnaround, Sounders fans can expect to see at least a bit of Dempsey in Saturday’s season-opening match against defending champion Sporting KC.
“He’ll play a role for us,” Schmid said Thursday.
When asked if he felt the Sounders were getting the same player this spring that they signed last summer, Schmid defended his star player.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on him,” Schmid said. “I think everybody should back off a little bit, and not put so much pressure on him. He’s the kind of player who wants to perform, he wants to do well, he wants to succeed. Obviously the expectations are (that) he has to be a magic man every time he steps on the field. He doesn’t have to be a magic man, he’s gotta be Clint Dempsey.
“Clint Dempsey can do things that affect the game, that impact the game. He can make plays by playing the way he normally plays. Right now I think everybody’s got 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 the middle of an MLS season is difficult; going to a team that’s fighting relegation is difficult as well; and now he comes back here. I think with time, he’ll do well. We’ll get him ready for Jurgen (Klinsmann), but more so than anything we’ll get him ready for Seattle.”
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CENTURYLINK SURFACE CONTINUES TO DETERIORATE
The FieldTurf at CenturyLink Field has rarely gotten stellar reviews, but last season the criticism seemed to grow. More visiting coaches commented on it, and the New York Red Bulls cited it as at least part of the reason for leaving Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave in New York when the team traveled to Seattle for a marquee match in late September.
The surface is now entering its third year after being replaced following the 2011 season. Since then, the stadium has been home not only to the Sounders and Seattle Seahawks, but also to the University of Washington football team while Husky Stadium underwent renovations during the 2012 college football season.
Schmid acknowledged on Thursday that the FieldTurf is worse for the wear.
“It’s not as good as it was last year. It’s not as good as it was its first year,” Schmid said. “That’s just a natural thing. It’s something that once the blades lay down, they don’t want to stand up anymore. I think our grounds crew does a great job. They’re going to do a fantastic job trying to lift (the blades) and get them back up and so forth and make it a more playable surface as far as soccer is concerned. They’re going to do all that they can, and that’s all we can ask for.”
THREE MIDFIELDERS ADDED TO ROSTER
The Sounders signed three midfielders this week, bringing the roster to 27 players. Schmid discussed all three signings following practice on Thursday.
Gonzalo Pineda, 31, joined the Sounders on trial for the 2014 preseason. A central midfielder, Pineda has made over 200 appearances in Liga MX and earned 32 caps for the Mexican national team—including three starts in the 2006 World Cup. He most recently played for Queretaro, making 27 appearances in 2012-2013.
“He adds a lot of experience for us in midfield, he’s technically very clean,” Schmid said. “He sees the game really well. He’s a good personality, fits in really well with the group.”
Fabio Pereira, the final pick in the 2014 SuperDraft, scored two preseason goals for the Sounders. A native of Brazil, Pereira relocated to the U.S. in high school and finished his collegiate career ranked second in University of Michigan history with 22 assists.
“He made our team,” said Schmid, “and he made our team because of his effort. He’s like a big sponge, he wants to learn all the time. Technically he’s very clean, he’s a good player. He loves to play the game, he’s enthusiastic, and he’s got a good future.”
26-year-old Michael Azira made three preseason starts for the Sounders. Azira spent the last two seasons in USL Pro with the Charleston Battery, scoring seven goals in 47 matches. He also scored the game-winner in the 2012 USL Pro championship match.
“He’s a midfielder who will play in Ozzie’s role if needed,” Schmid said, referring to starting defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. “He can also play more attacking as well. Sometimes he’s the kind of player on the field that you don’t notice. You have to watch to see all the little things he does. He’s strong on the tackle, he’s good with the ball, he’s very simple.”
GONZALEZ NEARING FULL HEALTH
Leo Gonzalez, Seattle’s starting left back since early in the 2009 season, has been slow to recover from offseason groin surgery. While not confirming whether Gonzalez would be ready to start Saturday, Schmid sounded confident Thursday that the 33-year-old Costa Rican isn’t far from returning.
“Leo’s doing well,” Schmid said. “He’s getting better. I think he’s really, really close.”
If Gonzalez can’t start on Saturday, second-year player Dylan Remick will likely get the nod.
Agree with Schmid that people should ease off Dempsey and let him settle in with the Sounders? Think Dempsey will have a solid season now that he’s returning to a more familiar situation? Wish the Sounders and Seahawks could come up with a better solution for the playing surface at CenturyLink?
Share your thoughts below.