It’s sort of like getting really cool new toys, but with assembly required — the fun part might demand some work and patience.
All indications are that Seattle Sounders FC will finally get designated players Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez on the pitch at the same time Saturday, when Toronto FC visits CenturyLink Field. And as eagerly as the Sounders have awaited this day, coach Sigi Schmid admits it could take some tinkering to determine the best way to configure the three forwards into a productive unit.
“That will become clear once they actually play in a game,” Schmid said after the club wrapped up training Friday. “Everybody’s running pattern, running energy, is different in a game. The games really start to identify what’s the best shape, what’s the best formation to use them in.”
Martins and Valdez started alongside each other for the past three matches. The Sounders went 2-1 in those games, with Martins contributing three goals and Valdez one. The newcomer will be Dempsey, who has been out with a hamstring injury since Aug. 11 — just five days after Valdez signed on as a designed player.
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Together they project as one of Major League Soccer’s most credentialed and dangerous attacking trios. However, the Sounders can’t afford to spend much time waiting for potential to mesh into production. There are seven games left in this MLS season, and Seattle is tied for sixth place in the Western Conference — sixth place makes the playoffs, seventh doesn’t.
Meanwhile, Toronto is every bit as focused on its stretch run toward what would be its first-ever playoff appearance after eight seasons of frustration.
“There’s hope from their fans that they’re finally going to make the playoffs,” said Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who played for Toronto from 2009-2013. “But by the same token, we need three points.”
This might be the rare week when the Sounders are closer to full strength than their opponent. In addition to the three designated players, newly signed midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz also could be ready to make his Seattle debut. And if so, the only key players certainly out are central defender Roman Torres, who is away with the Panama national team, and midfielder Marco Pappa, away with Guatemala.
Meanwhile, Toronto will be without its top two forwards as Sebastian Giovinco is out with an adductor injury, and Jozy Altidore is with the United States national team.
This week Giovinco was named MLS player of the month for August. The Italy national team star is second in MLS with 17 goals and tied for second in the league with 13 assists. He considered a top contender for the league’s most valuable player award in his first season since coming to MLS as a designated player on Jan. 19.
“Obviously those guys are important,” Seattle central defender Chad Marshall said. “And Giovinco is a special player in this league, so they’ll miss him. But they’re still going to come out and they’re still going to put forwards on the field who are going to try to score goals. They’ve got Robbie Findley, Herculez Gomez — guys who have banged a lot of goals in the past. They’re still going to be dangerous, and we need to respect them and come out in the right way.”
Another key player available for Toronto is DP midfielder Michael Bradley.
“He’s always a focal point for them,” Marshall said. “He’s a guy who’s all over the field, runs a lot, so we need to match his intensity and his movement on the field. If we can always have a guy around him and not let him run the show, I think we’ll be all right.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (12-13-2; 38 POINTS) VS. TORONTO FC (11-10-4; 37 POINTS)
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field.
TV: JOEtv. RADIO: 97.3 FM.
HEAD TO HEAD: The Sounders lead 6-2-1 overall and 3-1-1 in Seattle. Toronto won, 2-1, last season at home. This is the only scheduled meeting.
NOTES: Seattle designated players Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez are expected to share the pitch for the first time. Martins and Valdez started last week, and Dempsey is expected back from a hamstring injury. … Toronto, which has never made the playoffs, is in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, nine points clear of the playoff red line. Seattle, which has never missed the playoffs, is tied for the sixth and final playoff spot in the West. … Seattle will be without defender Roman Torres (Panama) and midfielder Marco Pappa (Guatemala), who are on international duty. Toronto will be without forward Jozy Altidore (USA) due to national team duty. Reigning MLS player of the month and MVP candidate Sebastian Giovinco is out due to an adductor injury. Giovinco leads Toronto with 17 goals and 13 assists. Midfielder Collen Warner is serving the first of a two-game suspension for violent conduct. … Martins leads Seattle with 10 goals; Dempsey leads with six assists … Seattle is 9-4-1 at home. The Reds are 4-7-3 away. … The Sounders have won two of their last three league matches, while Toronto is coming off of back-to-back wins at home. … Both teams have plus-two goal differential: Seattle scoring 32 and allowing 30, and the Reds scoring 44 and allowing 42. … Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei played for Toronto from 2009-13. Toronto defender Eriq Zavaleta played his rookie season for Seattle, which made him the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft. … Seattle midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Andy Rose are one caution from a game suspension for accumulation. … The referee is Ted Unkel.
QUOTE: “The challenge right now obviously with Giovinco being hurt and Altidore being gone is trying to figure out what formation they’re going to come with. Are they going to drop back in to a 4-4-2? Are they going to come at us with the 4-2-3-1 that they’ve played the last couple of games? Who’s going to replace those particular people? Are we going to see Herculez Gomez start his first game? Is Luke Moore back into the mix?” — Seattle coach Sigi Schmid on preparing for Toronto.
NEXT: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12, at San Jose.