Sigi Schmid has made no secret this preseason that he wants his defenders to take a more active role in the Sounders FC’s possession.
That has meant more passes to the defense to swing the ball to the opposite side of the field or simply to reset the attack. It has also meant seeing defenders play a much more attacking style.
Chief among those whose style is noticeably different from previous years in rave green is Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. The fourth-year center back has taken quickly to the adjustment to his role already in just the third week of training camp.
“One of the big improvements that we talked about with Kennedy in the off-season was that when we have the ball being part of what we’re trying to do with the ball. That he isn’t just a defender. We want our defenders to be involved with the offense,” Schmid said. “We don’t want them to be playmakers, but if we get stuck we want to be able to play back to them. He’s been very willing to be involved in that part of it. Now we can work on positioning, but his desire to want the ball is something that he’s really tried to put into his game and I think that helps his game.”
Hurtado is no stranger to the possession game as a defender though. At Deportivo Cali in Colombia, he played a similar style to what is being asked of him now. During the off-season, he spent time with the ball at his feet, adding that element back to his repertoire.
“My mentality is so different from last year and I’m so happy for that,” he smiled after a training session in Arizona. “It’s more comfortable for me.”
It was also a relief for Hurtado to be able to focus on soccer this off-season. Last year, he was coming back from a devastating knee injury suffered just nine games into the 2010 season. That meant part of the 2011 preseason was spent just getting reacquainted with the daily rigors of training.
“The first few games were stressful for me, but as the games went on and as I played I started to feel more confident,” he said. “I felt like I had a great team that was taking care of me and once I got back on the field, I knew I was in good shape to go.”
Now in 2012, his efforts are put exclusively toward preparing for the first game, March 7 at CenturyLink Field against Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, where the Sounders new look will get put to the test for the first time.
The change in approach won’t affect the bread and butter of Seattle’s attack that led the league in scoring in 2011 by a comfortable margin and finished second in the league standings. With the creative strengths of Mauro Rosales, Fredy Montero, Alvaro Fernandez and the rest of Seattle’s forwards and midfielders, the responsibilities of the defenders will be more as outlets than as creators.
“We still have that individual flair and we always want to rely on that – on the abilities of a Mauro or a Fernandez or a Montero to break down the defense, but we also want to attack as a collective unit and be able to maintain pressure on the opponent,” Schmid said. “And if it gets shut down or if we’re a little tired and we just have to hold onto the ball we can do that.”
The Sounders will continue to train in Arizona until Tuesday. They will play their first preseason match on Monday at 3 pm Pacific Time at Casa Grande’s Grande Sports World against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The match will be covered live with a blog on SoundersFC.com.