Clint Dempsey’s return to the Sounders’ lineup is right on time, as Seattle braces for an uphill battle in both the schedule and standings.
On top of Saturday’s home matchup with the imposing Los Angeles Galaxy, who are fourth in the western conference, what remains of league play in July includes a home match against first-place F.C. Dallas and road matches at northwest rival Portland, fifth-place Sporting Kansas City and an LA rematch with the Galaxy.
Dempsey is no stranger to playing the second half of the season from behind. In 2015, Dempsey and the Sounders sat outside the playoff picture amid a lackluster 1-9-1 run, yet turned the season around to inch into their seventh consecutive postseason.
Now, as Seattle sits in ninth place and seven points out of the playoffs, the road to eight straight postseason berths is a long one.
“We’re going to have to really turn things around if we want to make playoffs, so that’s what everybody’s looking to do,” Dempsey said.
Seattle’s 1-3-1 record in Dempsey’s absence did little to help its climb out of the western conference doldrums and into the current playoff picture. Dempsey acknowledged the work ahead, and admits he feels better than previous returns from the national team.
“I feel better right now, because last year after the tournament I came back and played in a game and ended up picking up an injury, and it was difficult getting back in terms of feeling 100 percent as we pushed for the playoffs and stuff like that,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey’s stint with the U.S. men’s national team in Copa America Centenario was filled with strong play. He logged three goals and three assists in six games — both team highs.
He deflected credit from his stat-stuffing Copa performance to the teammates who set up his goals. But he was quick to admit that he feels good approaching his first MLS action in over a month.
The forward sat out the July 2 game against Toronto FC in an effort to ensure fresh legs when he returned. Head coach Sigi Schmid said the rest benefited him, but made no allusions to what position he will fill in the lineup.
“Physically, I think he feels good,” Schmid said. “It’ll be nice to get him back into the team and onto the field. … Whenever he’s on the field, he plays a big role.”
Over the past six weeks, Dempsey’s absence paved the way for forward Jordan Morris to get more touches. Morris scored two goals — he leads the team with six this season — sans Dempsey, the most recent an equalizer in last week’s draw with Toronto.
Sounders captain Brad Evans will be a game-time decision Saturday according to Schmid.
“We wanted to see how he got through today,” Schmid said. “He’s very, very close, but we want to make sure we make the right decision.”
Evans missed the Toronto game with a strained calf.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS (5-9-2, 17 POINTS) VS. L.A. GALAXY (6-3-8, 26 POINTS)
noon, Saturday, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington.
Radio: 97.3-FM, 1360-AM.
Head to head: Seattle and LA meet three times in July. Saturday’s match is the first time the teams meet in league play — the Sounders trounced LA 4-0 in a preseason friendly.
Notes: The last time the two teams faced in a game that held weight, it was the knockout round of the 2015 MLS playoffs and Seattle sent LA packing with a 3-2 win. In a series that dates back to 2009, the Galaxy hold the all-time advantage 8-4-6. … The Sounders currently sit in ninth place in the western conference, and are seven points out of a playoff spot. ... The fourth-place Galaxy are paced by forward Robbie Keane, who recently returned from playing in the UEFA European Championship. Giovani Dos Santos leads the Galaxy with seven goals scored on the season. Galaxy midfielder Nigel de Jong is suspended for Saturday’s game after drawing a red card for a tackle against the Vancouver Whitecaps Monday. Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Rowe has 60 saves on the season, third best in the MLS.
Quote: “I always felt when playing against (LA coach Bruce Arena), his teams have enough quality where they’re going to get some chances, but they also play in a manner that will allow you to get some chances. So it really comes down to which team can do a better job of finishing their chances. They’ve got experienced players who cheat at the right times, and that’s what helps them with their counterattack, and that’s something we always have to be aware of.” — head coach Sigi Schmid
Next: The Sounders play F.C. Dallas, which holds first place in the Western Conference standings, at home on Wednesday, July 13. They then hit the road to face Cascadia Cup rival Portland July 17.