Jordan Morris will start at striker for the Sounders on Saturday, while Clint Dempsey also returns from national team duty to help a squad that has won three of its last four games. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
After a two-week respite, the Sounders on Saturday will look to build on recent success by trotting out one of their more complete starting lineups of the entire season.
Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris return from national team duty to face New York City FC at Yankee Stadium, joining a mostly-healthy back line that has contributed greatly to the team winning three of its past four games. All three of those victories came by 1-0 scores, showing just how strong a defensive unit the Sounders have been in the absence of some top attackers.
“We’ve actually put some really strong lineups out there before,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said following his team’s final workout Friday ahead of Saturday’s contest. “What we have really missed is the consistency.”
And they got that back right before the break, seeing Roman Torres, Chad Marshall, Joevin Jones and Brad Evans all together again as starting defenders for the first time this season. Alas, it remains to be seen whether that quartet remains intact Saturday, given how veteran center back Torres just played three games in eight days for both the Sounders and the Panamanian national team.
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Torres is still easing back from a hamstring injury and Schmetzer has been prone to resting him in situations where the team — which plays at home Wednesday against Orlando — has multiple games bunched together. Still, most of the lineup should be intact for one of the rare times this season, with Morris back up top again in the striker’s role and Dempsey out there as well.
The absence of Morris and Dempsey forced the Sounders to implement a variety of changes to their attack and ultimately rush veteran Will Bruin back from a dislocated elbow to help them put the ball in the net their previous game against Houston. Bruin won’t start Saturday, with Schmetzer preferring Morris at striker and Harry Shipp out on the wing.
“He’s going to feature more Wednesday,” Schmetzer said of Bruin. “I’m going to have a little more conservative approach. I’m going to put Harry in there to keep a little more possession. That was kind of my thinking from Day 1. If I was going to go a little more attack-minded, I’d put Jordan more on the wing channel and put Bruin up top.
“Starting on the road and looking for a little more possession, I’ll put Harry on the midfield.”
Other than a blowout loss in Columbus, where the Sounders were missing numerous regulars due to national team duty, injury and rest, the team appeared to be gathering steam before the two-week World Cup qualifying break kicked in.
The three recent wins have the Sounders tied with Vancouver for fifth spot in the Western Conference with a 5-6-4 record. Even without their top attackers, they’d been finding ways to win for the first time all season.
“We would have probably preferred to keep on playing,” Schmetzer said. “Three out of four, that was a good run for us. The away game at Columbus was almost a throwaway game for us, so yeah, we would have preferred to keep playing.”
Now, they’ll have to get on another run, with some added firepower. And just in time, with the team having won just one road game — a 3-0 victory in Los Angeles — all year.
The team’s previous contest at Yankee Stadium was a 3-1 win in 2015.
Morris said earlier this week he feels the team is “on the right path” after working through some early issues. Injuries to veteran defenders Evans, Torres and Marshall at various times kept the back line an ever-revolving door with 10 different quartets the first 15 games. Morris, neanwhile, has periodically been slowed up top by a lingering ankle issue and has scored only twice in 13 games despite a plethora of chances.
“The ankle’s been a little drustrating this year, but I’m just trying to push through that and go out and help the team in any way that I can,” Morris said. “Whether that’s playing out wide or up front. I think adding different facets to my game is important and then in the final third (of the field), just trying to continue to work on the field product is important to me.”