Just as the Seattle Sounders roster continues its return to health and fitness, international call-ups will take their toll this weekend against Toronto FC. But one long-awaited moment seems deliciously close: Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey, and Nelson Haedo Valdez are likely to share the field for the first time for at least part of the match.
Sigi Schmid would only say that "chances are much better" that we see a full strength attacking group from the team. The coach's comments were understandably cagey, but Dempsey joined the other two attacking Designated Players fully in training Thursday.
"They have to work together and get their understanding down," Schmid said after practice. Given the quality and experience of the three DP's, it shouldn't take them long to reach that level of understanding, especially with crucial points needed at home.
If the three can start together, it offers Schmid a challenge in building a lineup Saturday. Román Torres is away with Panama, which could suggest a return to center back for captain Brad Evans. But Evans played a deeper right midfield role Thursday, with Zach Scott in the back line (thanks to reader jonnygoska for notes from practice).
Marco Pappa is also missing thanks to a Guatemala call-up, and Schmid made it clear that Lamar Neagle is in need of a rest after filling in with a lot of minutes during the recent tough stretch of games. With Osvaldo Alonso hopefully available to start, he will likely be joined in midfield by Erik Friberg and Evans. Whether Seattle opts to play Valdez in a wider role to fill out the midfield remains to be seen. The other obvious option is to have Valdez play higher with his DP partners, leaving Alonso, Evans and Friberg to patrol the middle third of the pitch.
Of course, other wide players are available, such as Thomás and even Andreas Ivanschitz, who also trained with the first team today. In practice, Valdez played more of a target forward role with Oba and Deuce deeper. This could have been just an experiment as Schmid looks at his lineup options against a Toronto side that will also be a bit hard to predict due to their own international absences.
The Sounders are inching their way to more dangerous lineups (on paper) every week. But we can only guess just how the teams will set up this weekend. "It's one of those things that cuts both ways right now, and I'm sure Greg [Vanney]'s not gonna reveal any secrets, and I'm not, and we'll find out on Saturday evening" Schmid said.