Bright and early on Monday morning, the Sounders FC departed Sea-Tac Airport bound for Phoenix, where they would board a bus and drive to the Francisco Grande Resort Hotel in Casa Grande, Arizona, for the second phase of training camp.
And while it is becoming a familiar training ground for the Sounders, who are making their third trip to the Grande Sports World for preseason camp, this year will have a different feel to it, according to head coach Sigi Schmid.
Whereas previous years have featured a slew of matches to get the team prepared for the rigorous MLS schedule ahead, this year will have a much more intense feel. Games will be fewer this year, with a much more focused approach to getting the team ready for the first match of the new season, a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal tilt against Santos Laguna on March 7 at CenturyLink Field.
“We’re planning not to play as many games as we have in the past. But we want to get the guys into the rhythm of giving everything in the games,” Schmid said. “That might mean a strong 60 in one game, a strong 75 in the next one and a strong 90 in the next one.”
In the first portion of training camp, the focus was on getting players into the rhythm of training camp. Three players who expect to figure prominently in the playing rotation this season were absent, with Brad Evans and Jeff Parke at US National Team camp and Adam Johansson playing with Sweden.
That gave Schmid and his staff a chance to see younger players, rookies and trialists mixed in with the returning group and determine how they best fit with the team in the coming weeks.
“I think the first phase was good. We got to see players, we got to identify players,” Schmid said. “We’re going to make a couple of cuts and we have a good idea where we think some guys are best in terms of their positions and what makes sense for them to be looked at.”
Evans and Parke rejoined the team for their final training session in Seattle on Saturday and Johansson is slated to join his new club by mid-week. Schmid also expects more trialists to join the team, as well.
The greatest change, though may come in the training attire. After several days training at the indoor facility at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center and in the cool climates of the Starfire training grounds in Tukwila, the Sounders will now be faced with much warmer temperatures in Arizona.
“The weather is supposed to be nice this time down there, which is a change for us,” Schmid said. “I’m sure for the guys it will feel like it’s 100 degrees.”
The Sounders will train in Arizona through Tuesday, February 7, when they will briefly return to Seattle before heading to Bradenton, Florida, later that week.