Losing key players to national team duty can be disruptive for any team, and the Fire and Seattle Sounders will both be down two men when they collide Saturday night.
The absences will be much more noticeable for the host Sounders, however. Their absentees are strikers Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey, both of whom are with the U.S. squad for two big World Cup qualifying matches – at Costa Rica on Friday and vs. Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday. Johnson is the Sounders’ leading goal-scorer with seven.
Dempsey, the U.S. captain, was a huge acquisition when he signed as a Designated Player on Aug. 3. Prior to that Dempsey was showing his skills in the English Premier League, He was with Fulham from 2007-12 and Tottenham Hotspur from 2012-13. Though he has yet to get a goal or an assist for Seattle Dempsey was getting familiar to new teammates in four matches (one as a reserve) before his latest callup from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
The Fire’s absentees aren’t so impactful. Defensive midfielder Arevalo Rios has only played three matches for the Fire since arriving as the club’s latest Designated Player. Joel Lindpere has been in and out of the lineup all season as an outside midfielder.
Rios will be with Uruguay for World Cup qualifiers at Peru on Friday and vs. Colombia in Uruguay on Tuesday. Lindpere will be available for a home match against the Netherlands on Friday and against Hungary in Budapest on Tuesday.
Coach Frank Klopas has little-used captain Logan Pause, now healthy after a load of injuries this season, and Daniel Paladini available to replace Rios, who went all 90 minutes in his three matches with the Fire. Plenty of midfielders – Patrick Nyarko, Dilly Duka, Alex and Jeff Larentowicz – are available for the other three midfield spots so Lindpere shouldn’t be missed much.
Still, the Fire needs all the help it can get in Seattle. The club has never beaten the Sounders (0-4-3) and is 0-2-1 in visits to Seattle. The Sounders have an 11-game unbeaten streak (8-0-3) going at CenturyLink Field. That’s the second-longest home winning streak in Major League Soccer this season behind the run of 12 straight compiled by the San Jose Earthquakes.
The Sounders are the hottest team in Major League Soccer. They come in off three straight 1-0 wins and six victories in their last seven matches. But Johnson scored the goals that produced the last two wins.
Not only are the Sounders presently on a roll, they’ve always been difficult to play at CenturyLink Field. Seattle has played to 81 straight sellouts there and is averaging 42,276 fans for 12 home dates in 2013. That average attendance is double that of any other MLS club.
Seattle (13-8-4) is in comfortable playoff position in the Western Conference, sitting in third place but five points behind Real Salt Lake – owner of the best MLS record (14-8-6). The standings are another story for the Fire, which is in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with three home games and six road matches left in the regular season.
Five teams qualify for postseason play. New England, with 37 points in 26 matches, is No. 5 in the East based on the goals-scored tiebreaker with sixth-place Houston (also 37 points in 26 matches). The Fire (10-10-5) has 35 points in 25 matches. The Fire returns home after Saturday’s match, then takes off again in mid-week for a Wednesday visit to Toronto FC.
The remaining home games are Sept. 14 vs. New England, Sept. 28 vs. Montreal and Oct. 19 vs. Toronto FC. The regular season ends Oct. 27 in New York.