Clint Dempsey hasn’t lacked for coming out parties.
There was his introduction at the Dallas game three weekends ago, when he wasn’t in uniform. There was his Sounders debut off the bench two weekends ago in Toronto. And there was his first start as for the Sounders last weekend at Houston.
All of that was buildup to Sunday, when he will make his home debut in rave green at sold out CenturyLink Field before the largest crowd ever to watch the Sounders in Major League Soccer competition.
“Even the game versus Dallas where the presentation was, that was incredible, that was like a movie,” Dempsey said. “I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like when the whole stadium is packed and they’re behind us. We’ll feed off that energy and we’ll make sure that we give everything we have to let them go home happy.”
The crowd could go home veryhappy because Dempsey’s home debut will come against the arch-rival Portland Timbers in a match with heavy implications in races for the Supporters’ Shield, MLS playoffs and Cascadia Cup.
The game also will mark the forward’s first competition alongside fellow U.S. national team members Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans and fellow designated player Mauro Rosales – and perhaps also designated player Obafemi Martins, who remains questionable with an ankle sprain.
When Dempsey made his Sounders debut in Toronto, he came on in place of Martins. And when Dempsey made his first start at Houston, Johnson was out because of yellow card accumulation.
So those 67,000 or so spectators at CenturyLink Field and in the national television audience Sunday may be the first to get a look at all that horsepower the Sounders have harnessed together.
“That would be great,” coach Sigi Schmid said Saturday. “Right now I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch here, but it would be great. Obviously with national team call-ups and injuries we haven’t had a chance to put them all on the field at the same time together. You’re only going to know how it’s going to work, what system’s best for all of them, once we get them on the field together.”
For all of that Seattle potential, it is Portland that comes into this match higher in the Western Conference standings.
Schmid credited the Timbers’ surge largely to first-year coach Caleb Porter, while Porter credited the unity of his club.
“We have a bit of a different blueprint in how we’re going to get to the end result as some of the other clubs,” Porter said. “The strength of our team is in the team and in the collective effort and the way we play and the organization. And yet we still have talented players – but we don’t have a Clint Dempsey. We don’t have a Robbie Keane (of Los Angeles). That doesn’t mean we won’t perhaps someday have those types of players; but right now we don’t, so we have to do it with the way we play as a team.”
Even in a rivalry week where both sides stayed cautiously away from bulletin-board material, Schmid wasn’t quite buying Porter’s viewpoint.
“Obviously, Caleb is pushing the team concept – I think every coach pushes the team concept,” Schmid said. “We feel we’re a team as well. And within that team you have individual players. And they have a Diego Valeri, they have a Ryan Johnson, who’s got nine goals for them up front, who’s playing for the Jamaican national team; they’ve got Will Johnson, who’s been a very important midfielder for them. … So it’s not like it’s the Portland team against the Seattle collection of individuals. It’s Seattle’s team against Portland’s team, and it’s Portland’s individuals against Seattle’s individuals.”
PORTLAND TIMBERS (9-3-12; 39 POINTS) AT SOUNDERS FC (10-8-4; 34)
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: ESPN2. RADIO: 97.3-FM; 99.3-FM (Spanish).
HEAD TO HEAD: Seattle leads 2-1-3 in MLS play, and 41-28-11 in the all-time rivalry. The teams played to a 1-1 draw March 16 in Seattle. The 2013 series resolves Oct. 13 in Portland.
NOTES: Cascadia Cup standings are Vancouver (1-1-2, 5 points), Seattle (1-1-1, 4 points), Portland (0-0-3, 3 points). … The game is sold out. The Sounders expect to top their club record attendance of 66,452 for an MLS match, and could challenge the Pacific Northwest record for any soccer match: 67,052 for Sounders vs. Manchester United in 2011. … Seattle is 7-0-2 in MLS matches drawing crowds above 40,000. … The Sounders have a club-record nine-game home unbeaten streak (6-0-3). Portland is 2-2-8 on the road. … Seattle designated player Clint Dempsey is expected to make his home debut. … Portland has the fewest losses in MLS. The Timbers are coming off a 3-3 home draw against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. The Sounders lost 3-1 at Houston on Aug. 17. … Ryan Johnson leads Portland with eight goals, while Diego Valeri leads with 11 assists. … Seattle goals leader Obafemi Martins (seven) is questionable with an ankle sprain. … Portland will be without midfielder Diego Chara, who is serving a one-game suspension after receiving his fifth yellow card of the season Wednesday. Seattle forward Eddie Johnson returns after sitting out last weekend because of caution accumulation. Defenders Djimi Traore and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado are one card away from suspension. … The referee is Jair Marrufo.
QUOTABLE: “I’m not going to stand here and call them names and throw empty beer cans at their bus. Other people will do that.” – Sounders coach Sigi Schmid on the Portland rivalry.
NEXT: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, at Columbus Crew.