Sounders attempt to stave off elimination

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TUKWILA — Full strength is an idyllic thought long past for Sounders FC.

But amid a frantic stretch of three games in seven days, having staved off one elimination game and heading into another, Seattle has come closer to establishing some measure of stability.

The last three games, the Sounders have featured the same formation with nearly all the same ingredients, save for a few adjustments on defense and a suspension at goalkeeper.

The results have been mixed — one tie, one win, one loss — but cohesion is finally developing.

“It’s been good,” said midfielder Clint Dempsey. “We’ve been working a lot on our shape, becoming more organized, making sure that everybody is more familiar with the system and how our movements are going to be going forward in the attack and defensively, and just having more fluidity to our game and creating more chances.”

As a potential bonus, the Sounders are holding out hope they could get Obafemi Martins back from a groin injury that has kept him out the past five games. The forward, who practiced Monday in limited fashion, had eight goals and four assists in the regular season.

Martins’ return would also alleviate the suspension of forward Lamar Neagle, who is out due to yellow-card accumulation.

“His speed can create danger,” coach Sigi Schmid said of Martins, “so we’ll just have to see if he’s ready.”

Seattle has played all three of its designated players — Dempsey, Martins and midfielder Mauro Rosales — just 54 minutes, less than 4 percent of the season since Dempsey arrived.

The team has never played all three of its DPs with its other key attacking piece, leading scorer Eddie Johnson.

Every weapon available will be needed as the Sounders try to overcome a 2-1 deficit to rival Portland in the Western Conference semifinals. The series concludes at 8 p.m. Thursday at Jeld-Wen Field, and Seattle must lead after 90 minutes to keep its season alive.

“This is where the big players step up,” said Johnson. “Guys like Clint, guys like Oba, guys like myself, guys like Brad Evans, just to name a few, this is who the team is relying on. It’s up to us to be on our game. When we’re on our game, it becomes contagious.”

Dempsey has done his part creating chances, earning 41 shots in 11 games, more than twice the rate of Los Angeles Galaxy star Landon Donovan, but that has translated to only one goal.

Saturday was a prime example of that frustration as he narrowly missed on two free kicks (one inches high, one forcing an amazing save), a left-footed shot in the penalty box and a header on goal just before the final whistle.

“One day,” said Schmid, “all those things are going to turn the other way, and I feel sorry for the opponent when it does.”

Joseph has impact in return

When Shalrie Joseph’s calf injury resurfaced, after bothering him off and on all year, a key question was whether the veteran midfielder would be able to contribute again this season.

Joseph, for his part, fought through the frustration and worked his way back on the field in Saturday’s first leg.

In the 90th minute, he won a crucial header to set up Osvaldo Alonso’s all-important goal that halved the Timbers’ series lead.

“It’s been a battle for me to get back to where I am now,” said Joseph, one of the few Sounders with MLS Cup experience. “For me, it’s just trying to get fit and trying to stay sharp and make sure I’m ready if they call on me Thursday.”

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