It has been nearly two months since the 2010 Sounders FC season came to an end with a Western Conference Semifinal loss to the LA Galaxy, but the off-season has included only a quick breath of a break for technical director Chris Henderson and the Seattle coaching staff.
I talked with Henderson recently about the off-season and the quick build-up to the Sounders FC’s third season in 2011.
Q: How has the off-season been?
Henderson: In the office it hasn’t really stopped. Some guys have taken a few days here and there, but we’re planning for preseason and setting up to go to Arizona and Florida and coordinating games for that. We’re also trying to prepare our timing and getting the team together for March 15. We’ve got Erik Friberg coming in, so we’ll see how he fits in. With Alvaro Fernandez and Blaise Nkufo getting a preseason, Nate Jaqua is working here and we’ll be careful with him, Brad Evans looks great … that core of players we were missing will help us.
Q: Talk about the team as it sits right now. How do you feel about that group?
Henderson: Right now we’re happy with the group. We can build on the group we had last year. There are guys starting to come into town now and train and we’ve been really happy about that. The guys took some time mentally and physically to take a break and now they’re ready to get out and get after it. We’ll bring a lot of the rookies in early and the veterans will come in a week later to do some testing and get a baseline for where they’re at. When you look at the new rosters now, with the extra spots, it’s going to be competitive to see who’s in the first team of starters and reserves, but also who is in the full reserve team and young players who are fighting.
Q: Can you update us the SuperDraft and how you have prepared for it this year?
Henderson: We had the Combine in Las Vegas and we were really happy with the quality this year. It was a big step up after last year and we were happy with last year’s combine. So I think it’s going to continue to grow and the quality is going to keep getting better. We saw some guys that we really liked and some of those players will be at the Combine in Florida and if they perform the same way there, they may not fall to us. The quality of the foreign players may be better than when they were included in year’s past, so maybe some of those college guys may drop down a little further.
Q: What is the mentality of the team with the five picks you have in the SuperDraft?
Henderson: There’s a long answer for that and there’s a lot that goes into it. There is a lot of evaluation of the players and of potential offers that may come in for the different picks and different moves we can make to improve our team. It seems like, daily, at the Combine you are making changes to what your goals are. Overall, we want to look for players who can improve our team and make the roster spots that could be open. Many times you take the best player, but sometimes you might look for a specific position and you see a guy that you have to take at that point. It’s hard to say, but we’re going to be open to everything and we have a staff that puts in the work. I think this year we put in more background work than last year. We understand the importance of that end of our roster and with CONCACAF we have to have a roster that is good all the way through.
Q: Osvaldo Alonso and Steve Zakuani trained with Everton in England. What was the feedback on those two guys?
Henderson: They were happy with both of them. From the player side, the experience was great and the level was good. On good days, both of those guys can play in that league. So we’re really happy with that. For those guys to get over there and see what it’s like and to see that in Seattle we’re doing it pretty dang good. The set-up is good and there isn’t that big of a jump when you go over there.
Q: With Erik Friberg, O’Brian White and Danny Earls, how beneficial is it to have so many young, hungry players coming into the team next year?
Henderson: I’m really excited because when you have a team with guys who are hungry to prove themselves, that’s a good thing. With O’Brien White, he may feel that things weren’t clicking in Toronto, but now there’s a clean slate. He’s a guy who can play off the forwards, he can play strictly up top and he had great games against us last year. He’ll get the ball and connect and then he’ll sprint into the box. If the service is right, he is a guy who could get a bunch of goals and he proved it in college. Getting a guy who is willing to work, willing to listen and looking to try and make a difference with a second chance is a good thing. I think the same thing of Friberg. He’s one of only a handful of Swedish guys to come into this league and it could be a chance for him to open some doors.
Q: Do you anticipate improving the team in ways other than the draft?
Henderson: It’s hard to say exactly what we’re going to do. We’re happy with the core of players we have. There’s always a possibility that there could be changes, but it’s hard to say there will be big changes. I’m excited to get our whole staff together in Florida because then we’ll really be able to take a good look at the team and say “This is a team that what we can win a championship with.”