Early this season, the concern was that Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins were carrying too much of the Seattle Sounders’ scoring load.
Recently, the concern is that they haven’t been carrying enough.
But either way, the constant has been winning, as the Sounders head into their weekend match at Sporting Kansas City as the Western Conference leader — and by most measures as the best team in Major League Soccer.
However, the forward position remained a topic of interest Thursday, when Dempsey, Martins and first reserve Chad Barrett were all absent from training.
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Dempsey was away for the birth of his fourth child. Martins was recovering from nose surgery. And Barrett was nursing a hamstring injury.
The only other thing they had in common was coach Sigi Schmid’s reluctance to commit to what any of it means for Saturday.
“Dempsey’s situation is as you guys know, so that’s ongoing,” he said. “Martins had surgery, but is unable to train after the surgery because you have nose surgery like that and … there’s a chance of nosebleed, so he can’t really train. Barrett got injured in training on Tuesday, and so right now we’re not sure about his status.”
If at least two of those players are out, Lamar Neagle seems likely to move up from the midfield position, where his minutes have dwindled in recent weeks. If all three are out, Schmid will have to get creative with his lineup, and on Thursday he showed no interest in tipping his hand.
“We’ll look at what fits our personnel,” he said. “So once we have a good idea who’s healthy and who’s available, then we’ll make a lineup and put a group together that fits our personnel.”
So far, these Sounders have been very good at finding someone to step up with the timely goal.
Five games into the season, only Dempsey and Martins had scored — evenly dividing six goals. Now, Dempsey (seven) and Martins (six) have been joined by Barrett (three), and Neagle and Marco Pappa (two each). However, Dempsey hasn’t scored since May 9, nor Martins since May 3.
“When they were scoring, you were saying ‘You guys are the only ones scoring,’ ” Schmid accurately pointed out when asked about this last week after a 2-1 win over New York. “… For me, no, I am not concerned about that.”
And he seems to have little reason to be. Whether the goals are coming from Dempsey or Martins or elsewhere, they are coming in sufficient numbers at necessary times.
The Sounders’ 8-3-2 record puts them atop the Western Conference with 26 points, three ahead of Vancouver. They also lead Major League Soccer with an average of two points per game — topping Supporters’ Shield leader D.C. United (1.87), which has played two additional games.
It also has helped that the Sounders haven’t had to score many goals, as they have been the stingiest defense team in MLS. Seattle has allowed a league-low 10 goals over 13 games, and has recorded a league-high seven shutouts. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s 0.77 goals-against average is the lowest among regular starters.
The Sounders have stressed that all 11 players contribute to their defensive success. And that means the challenge will be increased this week when not only are three top forwards questionable, but also midfielder Gonzalo Pineda (ankle). Central defender Brad Evans also will be missing due to U.S. national team duty.