While Seattle fans anticipate the home debut of Clint Dempsey, in Portland the big question ahead of Sunday’s trip to CenturyLink Field is who will be available in the midfield.
The Timbers will not have workhorse Diego Chara, who is suspended for yellow card accumulation.
On Friday, the list of options for coach Caleb Porter appeared to get shorter when Ben Zemanski missed training for an undisclosed reason.
Team captain Will Johnson (shoulder) has not played in the last two league games. Jack Jewsbury has been slowed by a sore ankle. Johnson, Jewsbury and forward Frederic Piquionne are listed as questionable on the MLS injury list.
All of the above are “day to day” Porter said following Friday’s practice – though he said the same of defenders Futty Danso and David Horst, who are among the Timbers listed as out.
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid acknowledged Chara’s value getting around the field to disrupt opponents, but said he doesn’t expect Porter to go away from a system that has carried Portland (nine wins, 12 ties, three losses, 39 points) to second place in the Western Conference.
“It’s not, I think, going to change their system. I think they have options,” Schmid said.
The Seattle coach listed Rodney Wallace and Kalif Alhassan among players who have seen action in the middle, and Schmid suggested it’s possible that Will Johnson and Jewsbury might be healthy enough to play.
Porter won’t comment on players’ status beyond listing those who are day to day. But the coach said Chara’s absence and the injuries will add to an already significant challenge in Seattle.
“In the end, no one cares if you have guys injured,” Porter said. “What they want is they want you to figure it out, and they want you to get results regardless.
“You have to have a deep team in MLS, and I think we have a deep team,” the Timbers coach said. “One thing that we’ve seen with this team is that when we’ve lost guys, we’ve been able to plug new guys, new pieces in and we haven’t missed much of a beat collectively.”
While the Timbers must do some deck shuffling, the Sounders (10-4-8, 34 points) might have all of their go-to players available for the first time all season.
That, of course, includes Dempsey, whose CenturyLink debut has helped push ticket sales past 68,000. The U.S. national team’s captain — who on Aug. 3 left the English Premier League after more than six seasons to sign with Seattle — played 146 minutes in Sounders’ road games in Toronto and Houston.
Schmid said on Friday that Dempsey is nearing 90 percent fitness and that his “touches are getting a lot sharper.”