After rough stretch, Sounders look to set themselves apart
Seattle is 1-3-1 since beating Portland on July 13. The Timbers are 3-1-1 and vying for a playoff spot.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sounders @ Portland, 2 p.m., ESPN2
Consider it a litmus test of your Sounders optimism: When you look ahead to Sunday’s Seattle-Portland match at Providence Park, what do you see?
The pessimists will bemoan the scheduling quirk forcing Seattle to play its fifth match in two weeks — at the home of its biggest rival — point to Seattle’s recent stuttering form and be tormented by visions of tired legs and drooping chins.
The Sounders avoided their fifth loss in seven MLS matches with a draw against San Jose on Wednesday, but the home locker room felt like a defeated one. Midfielder Andy Rose stood amid the discarded ankle tape and knee socks and said that the result made the team feel “depleted.”
Clint Dempsey, standing nearby, admitted that “I’m feeling tired.”
Dempsey’s busy year began with a loan to Fulham in the English Premier League, a move Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said Dempsey had requested as part of his World Cup preparations – prep that continued throughout the spring as Dempsey fulfilled his obligations as the captain of the U.S. national team.
The sacrifices paid off in Brazil. Dempsey scored less than a minute into the U.S.’s group stage opener versus Ghana and knocked in the go-ahead goal against Portugal six days later.
“I thought he had a good World Cup, but obviously, you pay for it a bit now,” Schmid said. “It’s not just the physical strain, it’s the mental strain. We’re going to have to find him little breaks here and there, otherwise we’re going to burn him out completely.”
Schmid planned on giving Dempsey Wednesday night off, but threw him in as a substitute in an attempt to find a winning goal after San Jose equalized midway through the second half.
Dempsey scored eight goals in nine league games before leaving for national team camp in May. He’s scored just one in six since he returned.
Back to the litmus test. The optimists will point out that Seattle beat Portland in mid-July and that Dempsey often rises to the challenge when the stakes are raised.
They see Sunday’s match as a timely jolt to the system, an adrenaline shot to get the players over the final hurdle before the schedule opens back up next week.
“It’s a rivalry game, so you throw everything out the window, as far as fatigue,” midfielder Brad Evans said.
Added defender Zach Scott: “These games always mean a lot, even if it’s not moving guys up or down in the standings. It’s a pride issue at this point.”
There are plenty of implications in the standings as well. The weekend began with a four-way tie atop the Western Conference standings. Portland is within one place of a playoff position.
Banged up or not, glasses half full or half empty, Sunday’s result could help define the stretch run.
“If you can’t get up for (this) game,” Schmid said, “you can’t get up for anything.”