Although the Seattle Sounders and Columbus Crew are off to strong starts, both are dealing with some adversity heading into Saturday's match.
As Sounders star Clint Dempsey wraps up a two-game suspension, the unbeaten Crew take the field in Seattle for the first time since club president Mark McCullers announced his intention to resign from that role.
Dempsey scored his first goal of the season in a 2-1 home loss to Toronto on March 15, but was suspended and fined after television cameras caught him delivering a blow to defender Mark Bloom in the stomach/groin area.
Dempsey said after the match that he did not intend to strike Bloom's body. Though the MLS players' union appealed, the suspension was upheld and he sat out Sunday when Seattle (2-1-0) won 2-0 at Montreal.
The playmaking forward will be sidelined again Saturday before returning to league play April 5 against rival Portland.
"Disappointed," he said after practicing Thursday. "I don't agree with it. It is what it is and move on."
Without Dempsey, the Sounders could rely on fellow designated players Obafemi Martins and Osvaldo Alonso to carry the scoring load against the Crew (2-0-0). After producing eight goals in 21 matches in 2013, Martins scored his first of the season Sunday to help Seattle spoil Montreal's home opener.
"(Seattle) is a good team," Columbus first-year coach Gregg Berhalter told the team's official website. "They're an experienced team. They've been together a while, a lot of the guys. Playing at home, they have a really strong crowd."
The Sounders' Stefan Frei finished with five saves Sunday en route to his second shutout in three games. Defender Chad Marshall also has played a key role in that effort, and he'll face Columbus for the first time since being traded in December.
Marshall spent his previous 10 seasons with the Crew, helping them win the MLS Cup in 2008.
"It's a little different, but I just look at it as another home game," he said. "We've got to get three points, but it will be nice to see those guys after the game."
Without Marshall, the Crew have won the first two games for the first time in their 19-year history. However, they're going through some changes off the field with McCullers announcing Monday that he's leaving the team April 30.
New chairman and investor-operator Anthony Precourt said in a statement the pair has agreed the organization should go in a different direction. Precourt is assuming the club's day-to-day operations as acting president during the search for a replacement.
On the field, Columbus doesn't want to break up what it's started this season. Bernardo Anor had two goals in a 2-1 win over Philadelphia in the home opener last Saturday after Federico Higuain scored twice in a 3-0 victory at D.C. on March 8.
Justin Meram, who had an assist in the season opener, provided the winning goal in a 2-0 victory in the most recent meeting in Seattle on May 23, 2012.
The Sounders, though, are 4-1-3 in the all-time series.
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