MLS Soccer

Sounders 2 starting at the top in USL debut vs. Sacramento Republic

Fans not quite sure about the ins and outs of USL soccer are about to be offered a first-hand look.

Not only will the new Sounders 2 team make its USL debut at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Starfire Sports Stadium, but S2 will open against the best the league had to offer last season: Sacramento Republic FC.

“What better way to start the season off than against the defending champions,” coach Ezra Hendrickson said. “They’re a good team. They have a very good coach ( former Tacoma Star and MLS star Preki). … I think the guys are just chomping and the bit, so to speak, to get out there and show what we’ve been doing.”

USL represents the third level of the United States soccer pyramid, behind MLS and the second-division North American Soccer League.

This season, the USL has grown to 24 teams. Twelve have affiliation agreements with MLS clubs, while eight others are directly operated by MLS teams. The USL is divided into Eastern and Western conferences. After the 28-match regular season, six teams from each conference quality for the single-elimination playoffs.

The game-day roster is 18 players, and each team may make five substitutions.

All games — including S2-Sacramento — are streamed live at youtube.com/USL.

Sacramento is affiliated with MLS’ San Jose Earthquakes, while S2 is owned by Sounders FC. S2 players can be promoted to the first team, although that process is restricted. It is easier for players from the Seattle first team to be loaned down to S2, as getting game experience for young or little-used players was Seattle’s primary motivation for creating S2.

“(Pablo) Rossi a player that’s a very exciting player, a very good attacking player,” Hendrickson said. “(Andy) Craven, he’s another player that we expect a lot from and we think we’re going to get a lot of offensive production from. Sam Garza, who’s been around a while, but it’s his first time here with us and he’s been looking well. … (Oniel) Fisher, from the first team, he’s very good defender, as well as Jimmy Ockford — solid guys in the back. So it’s a pretty good team that we’ve put together, and now it’s just a matter of going out and executing.”

Sounders FC also hopes USL competition in front of involved fans will create a more accurate and intense playing environment than the old MLS Reserve League.

“It’s not a reserve game on Sunday morning in front of a few parents and our Emerald City Supporters members and maybe some dogs that are walking around the field,” Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s going to be a packed-house atmosphere, at night, points are on the table. It’s going to be, ‘Hey, what can you do under pressure?’ That’s great for the development of our players.”

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