By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
The Seattle Sounders continue preparing their roster for MLS opening day with new signings and word that designated player Clint Dempsey “will play a role” Saturday in the opener against Sporting Kansas City.
Dempsey was scheduled back in the Northwest on Thursday after concluding his loan to Fulham of the English Premier League and after playing the full 90 minutes Wednesday in the United States national team’s 2-0 loss to Ukraine in Cyprus.
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said he believes Dempsey can quickly fit in with the club despite missing all of its preseason training.
“We know him,” Schmid said. “… We’ve got a lot of guys now that have played with him. Last year, really nobody had played with him, except (Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans) in terms of international team experience. I think that makes it a lot easier.”
Last season, Dempsey recorded one goal and one assist in nine games with the Sounders. Then he failed to score any while in and out of the Fulham lineup over the two-month loan that began in January.
However, Schmid maintained his faith that Dempsey will bring all of the qualities the club was looking for when it signed him last August as the Major League Soccer’s highest-paid player.
“He doesn’t have to be a magic man every time he steps on the field,” Schmid said. “He’s got to be Clint Dempsey, and Clint Dempsey can do things that affect the game and impact the game and make plays by playing the way he normally plays. And so right now, I think everybody has these super-high expectations, and it’s a little bit unfair because he’s been in difficult situations. Coming here without a preseason and jumping into an MLS season in the middle of the year is difficult.”
Joining a team at the start of its season without any preseason training with them also could be difficult, but Schmid believes the loan to Fulham was worthwhile.
“It was a determination of what everybody felt would be the best situation in conjunction with ourselves, with him, with the national team, with everything,” Schmid said. “So for him it was good because it allowed him to get fit and get game time in. So, I’m not worried about his fitness. I’m only worried about his fitness when you’re asking him to play three games in a week across continents.”
Meanwhile, the Sounders on Thursday announced the signings of a pair of midfielders who had been training with the club: Michael Azira, a Uganda international who played the past two seasons with the Charleston Battery of USL-Pro, and Fabio Pereira, the 77th and final pick of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.
“Fabio — the irrelevant pick, the last pick — he made our team, and he made our team because of his effort,” Schmid said. “He’s like a big sponge and he wants to learn all the time. Technically, he’s very clean, he’s a good player, loves to play the game, he’s enthusiastic. I think he’s got a good future. “Michael Azira is … a midfielder who I think can play in (Osvaldo Alonso’s) role if needed. He can also play more attacking as well. … He can be strong on the tackle, he’s good with the ball, he’s very simple.”
One day earlier, the club had announced the signing of midfielder Gonzalo Pineda, 31, who had made 244 appearances in Mexico’s Liga MX and has 32 caps with the Mexico national team.
“I’m very glad to be here and to sign with Sounders,” he said Thursday after training at CenturyLink Field. “This is a new challenge in my career, and this is a pretty good opportunity to me to find out what can I do in a new country, in a new league.”