The Seattle Sounders ended the first phase of preseason camp Wednesday with their fourth training session at Starfire Sports Complex.
On Thursday (Jan. 28), they fly to Arizona for two weeks of desert training, including the first three friendlies.
“Obviously, (we will) continue our fitness,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “But it’s also now to work really on our tactics. I wanted them to play and work hard here and get some fitness stuff in. Conceptually, we’ve talked about a few ideas, but (Arizona is) really to work on tactics and how we want to play.”
In addition to practices — including several two-a-day sessions — the Sounders will play desert friendlies Wednesday against Vancouver, Feb. 6 against Portland and Feb. 9 against Celaya FC of Mexico. The latter was scheduled with an eye to the Sounders’ first meaningful matches of the new year, the home-and-away CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series against Club America of Mexico City on Feb. 23 and March 2.
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That may seem distant for fans, but Schmid noted the competition may arrive ahead of full club fitness.
“Our preseason is too short with the Champions League games,” Schmid said. “We start at the same time that the other MLS teams start, but they don’t have to play a game until 10 days later. It makes it a little more difficult, and I think it puts the players into a little more jeopardy of injury because they’re not entirely fit. I think it affects maybe your tactics going into those games because you now you’re not really going to be able to play a 90-minute game; you might have to cut that game somehow to 75 minutes of effort. I think it puts a strain on everything.”
While time is short, Schmid is grateful at least that most of his team is together from the start. That wasn’t the case a season ago when Clint Dempsey was away on national team duty and Osvaldo Alonso was dealing with injury, and players such as Nelson Valdez, Andreas Ivanschitz and Erik Friberg weren’t yet Sounders.
“It’s good for (Dempsey) to get in a preseason with us because he’s never had a real strong preseason with us based on just the timing and the national team camps and everything else,” Schmid said. “… It helps having Clint. It helps having Friberg here from the beginning; Valdez from the beginning; Ivanschitz from the beginning.”
Dempsey said national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann gave him a choice of training with the Sounders or with the USA in Carson, California.
“He sent a text to me, said some of the older-age players weren’t probably going to be involved and said it’s kind of up to you to make the decision,” Dempsey said. “I thought it was best for me, and how I build my body for the year, to do it here.”
Alonso also declared himself fully fit after a series of injuries limited him to 22 league appearances in 2015 — the fewest of his seven seasons in Seattle.
“This year is different, I start with everybody during preseason,” Alonso said. “I hope this year is better for me. I’m prepared for doing the best for the team.”
The only key players missing the early days of this camp are central defender Román Torres, who is expected to miss the first half of the season with a knee injury, and defender Brad Evans and rookie forward Jordan Morris, both away at national team camp.
Evans and Morris are expected to join the Sounders in Arizona.
ALONSO RETURNS HOME TO CUBA
Alonso spent part of his offseason in Cuba, his first return to his homeland since defecting during the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“It was fantastic,” he said. “After almost nine years I went back to my country. A nice thing for me. … I do everything. I went to the beach. I hang out with my family, friends, down there. I was happy to come back and see my hometown. … Everything the same, you know. Talking a lot of stuff. Almost nine years, coming back to see them, … it was great for me.”
Alonso said lifted travel restrictions between the two countries means that he can return again whenever he wants.