The smiles on the faces of the Sounders FC players and coaches belied the 32-degree temperatures on the fields at Starfire.
With two months since the team last got together, the Sounders were back in training, bundled up in the cold to begin preparations for the 2013 season with the first session of training camp on Monday.
“It’s like when you come back to school on the first day from vacation,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “You want to see your friends and stuff. It’s that kind of feeling.”
While Zakuani isn’t alone in his excitement at seeing familiar faces, there were also several new faces in camp.
With 24 players back from the 2012 team and the additions of Homegrown Player DeAndre Yedlin and SuperDraft selections Eriq Zavaleta and Dylan Remick, the training camp roster has filled out with a slew of non-roster invitees looking to earn a spot with the club.
After an offseason that saw the notable departures of defender Jeff Parke and forward Fredy Montero, some of those new faces may turn up a valuable piece to the Sounders FC puzzle for 2013.
“It was funny to see all the new faces and all the new guys,” midfielder and captain Mauro Rosales said. “We couldn’t see the quality and how they play because we split the team in two, but in the preseason we’ll get to know them pretty well.”
After the team warm-up the group split up into possession drills, with returning players on one part of the field and others on separate part. They then broke into short-sided games – first with 8v8-plus-1 playing the width of the field, then 10v10 while playing box-to-box.
While the new players, joined by Andy Rose and David Estrada, worked 10v10, the veterans did fitness work on an adjacent field.
Easing players into the start of camp is a tactic that head coach Sigi Schmid typically employs and has found success with that formula in his 13 seasons as an MLS head coach.
“I’ve always been a coach that when we start practicing I don’t believe in going crazy the first four or five days because I think that’s when a lot of injuries happen because players are anxious and eager and enthusiastic if you do too much too early,” he said.
As the week rolls on, the Sounders will move into 11v11 action and at the end of the week, they will engage in the yearly fitness testing at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center before heading to Casa Grande, Arizona next week for the next phase of camp.
The focus on Day One, though, was just on getting back on the field and getting their touch back.
“The first day, the touch is off and you’re going to be a bit erratic, but we’re getting there,” Zakuani said.
For Yedlin, it was the first chance to train with his hometown club as a professional. The first Homegrown Player in club history, Yedlin has previously filled in on training days with the team while playing with the Academy team, as well as during summer breaks while playing collegiately at Akron.
“It feels good to finally be on the team,” he smiled. “You hope to get this opportunity when you’re out here training, but still on the Academy team. It was definitely a good feeling.”
The day at Starfire is the first of what could be an 11-month journey, if the Sounders find themselves in the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco. To reach that goal, they will need to find success in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals beginning March 6 against UANL Tigres. That two-game aggregate-goal series starts in Monterrey, Mexico, and concludes March 12 at CenturyLink Field.
The Sounders will also kick off their quest for an MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield on March 2 against the Montreal Impact at CenturyLink Field in their first regular season match of 2013.
In both cases, the goal is clear – last year was good, but not good enough.
“We have to work harder than last year. We have to take this one like it’s the last one (we'll get),” Rosales said. “We see a lot of new faces and we hope many of these guys can help us become a very strong team.”