MLS Soccer

Weakened Sounders enter dip in schedule

The three Major League Soccer teams at the bottom of the points table are the Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids and Montreal Impact.

Those just happen to be the next three opponents for Seattle Sounders FC.

Naturally, the Sounders say they take none of those games for granted, starting with their 5:30 p.m. Saturday match at Chicago.

“Chicago’s a good team in the sense that they’ve had a lot of injuries and naturally for us they all get healthy,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “So (Mike) Magee’s healthy now and (Patrick) Nyarko’s healthy. I don’t know if (David) Accam’s going to be back for them in time. … Certainly up front with the addition of Magee and Nyarko they become a better team.”

The Sounders continue to have roster issues of their own spread across every portion of the pitch.

At forward, Clint Dempsey is out due to U.S. national team duty and Obafemi Martins is out due to injury. At midfield, Marco Pappa is away with the Guatemala national team. At central defense, Brad Evans is with the U.S. national team. And for the first time this season, goalkeeper Stefan Frei is expected to miss a start due to a shoulder injury suffered last week against D.C. United.

Schmid never quite ruled Frei out for Chicago, but indications point to veteran reserve Troy Perkins, who preserved the shutout through the second half against D.C.

“Troy is a pretty good goalkeeper,” Seattle defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso said. “He’s been in the league a lot of years, so I think it’s going to be good for us that we got him. Now we’ve got to play the same to keep winning three points.”

Perkins said he is ready, and that he feels no additional pressure to be perfect due to the absences of Dempsey and Martins, Seattle’s goal-scoring co-leaders with seven each.

“I’ve learned early (not to) start doing things that are out of your hands or out of your control,” Perkins said.

“I don’t score goals, it’s not my job. You just worry about what you have to do, and that’s all you can do. Chad Barrett might show up and score three goals; but you do what you do and just keep guys focused and calm.”

Last week, Barrett and Lamar Neagle started at forward, but it was left back Tyrone Mears who blasted in the winner two minutes from the end of regulation. That strike — which on Friday was voted MLS goal of the week — ended a three-game losing streak, restored the Sounders to the top of the Western Conference and added a jolt of confidence before the team headed to the Midwest.

“You can see it takes a lot of pressure off of a lot of guys,” Perkins said. “Their chests are out a little bit more this week, and their heads are up. … You always want momentum, but it’s game by game. You can’t worry about the past, you can’t worry about the future: It’s minute by minute. And Chicago’s a dangerous team. They’ve got some guys coming back from injury, and they’re also scrapping for points, so it’s going to be a fight.”

The Fire is at the bottom of the MLS standings and has managed a league-low 18 goals. Chicago is the only team in the league averaging less than a goal a game. Its minus-six goal differential is the second worst in MLS. And it is the only team in the league since Seattle’s expansion 2009 season that has never beaten the Sounders.

“We lost a couple of players to the national team, but we’ve got enough players to fill that spot,” Alonso said. “Saturday night we go there to Chicago and prove our game. It doesn’t matter who’s playing, the three points is more important.”

CHICAGO FIRE (4-9-3, 15 POINTS) VS. SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (10-7-2, 32 POINTS)

5:30 p.m. Saturday, Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Illinois

TV: JOEtv. RADIO: 97.3 FM

HEAD TO HEAD: Seattle leads the series 6-0-3 overall and 3-0-2 at Chicago. The Fire is the only MLS team never to have beaten the Sounders (other than 2015 expansion teams Orlando and New York City). Last season, the Sounders won 3-2 at Chicago. This is the only scheduled meeting this season.

Seattle is tied with Vancouver atop the Western Conference standings. Chicago is last in the league. … The Fire is on a five-game winless run, while the Sounders ended a three-game losing streak last week with a 1-0 win over D.C. United. Tyrone Mears’ late strike was voted MLS goal of the week. … Chicago has a league-low 18 goals and is the only MLS team averaging under a goal per game. … The Fire is second-to-last in MLS goal differential (minus 6). … Chicago is 4-4 at home, and the only team in the league without a home draw. Seattle is 3-5-1 on the road. … The Sounders will be without forwards Clint Dempsey (U.S. national team) and Obafemi Martins (leg), midfielder Marco Pappa (Guatemala national team), defender Brad Evans (U.S. national team) and probably No. 1 goalkeeper Stefan Frei (shoulder). Newly acquired midfielder Eric Friberg will not play. Dempsey and Martins share Seattle’s goals lead with seven, and Dempsey leads with six assists. … Chicago forward Mike Magee and forward/midfielder Patrick Nyarko are available after lengthy rehabs from injury. However, defender Joevin Jones is on international duty with Trinidad & Tobago. Forward/midfielder David Accam (hamstring) is questionable. … Accam and Jeff Larentowicz share the Fire’s goals lead with four. Harry Shipp leads with five assists. … Seattle defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is one caution away from a yellow-card suspension. … Chicago averages 15,590 per home match. The league average is 21,023. … The forecast calls for temperatures around 80 with a 20 percent chance of rain. … The referee is Allen Chapman.

QUOTE: “It’s a team that every game that they’ve played in has been very close. ... Basically, they’re in every game. It’s going to be a dogfight.” – Sounders coach Sigi Schmid on the Fire.

NEXT: Colorado Rapids, 7 p.m. July 18, CenturyLink Field.

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