The Sounders are bound for Casa Grande, Ariz., on Tuesday and with them comes many questions as they build toward the 2013 season.
Here are five things to watch in the Casa Grande leg of preseason
Where does Lamar Neagle play?
The Sounders brought in Federal Way native Lamar Neagle in a trade with the Montreal Impact on Sunday, but where he fits into the club’s plans on the field is yet to be seen. While he previously played best as an outside midfielder with the Sounders in 2011, he is a versatile talent that could also see time at forward according to head coach Sigi Schmid.
“It gives us a little more depth on the wing, maybe (more) than we even need. Lamar can also play up front. He’s shown that capability,” Schmid said. “His versatility and his ability and his desire to be back home are all things that made it come together and work. We’re happy to have him back.”
Neagle had five goals and two assists in 23 games with the Sounders in 2011, including a hat trick against the Columbus Crew. Last year, he had two goals and two assists in 23 matches for the Impact.
Who plays center back?
The two top returners at center back for the Sounders were Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni. While both are sturdy when in the lineup, they have also both missed matches with injuries in recent years. The club drafted Eriq Zavaleta, who played forward at Indiana University, with the 10th overall pick and plan to use him as a center back. Zach Scott is also expected to see more time as a center back.
That battle may also include 2012 first round SuperDraft pick Andrew Duran and non-roster invitee Ashani Fairclough.
How does the forward battle shake out?
With Eddie Johnson presumably remaining away with the US National Team for their World Cup qualifying match against Honduras on February 6 and Fredy Montero out on loan to Millonarios in Colombia, the Sounders will be without their top two scorers in the 2012 season when they play their first preseason match. This camp will provide opportunities for players to show that they deserve to be that forward alongside Johnson in the starting lineup if Schmid opts to maintain a 4-4-2 formation.
Those names include David Estrada, Babayele Sodade and Sammy Ochoa, as well as Mauro Rosales, Neagle and Steve Zakuani.
How do the rookies transition to the pro level?
Zavaleta and DeAndre Yedlin will have eyes turned to them as they make the move from college standouts to professional rookies and will have to do it in a hurry.
As mentioned, Zavaleta will battle for first-team minutes at center back from Day One, while Yedlin will look to spell starting right back Adam Johansson once the veteran returns from national team duty with Sweden, but until then, much of the minutes will go to Yedlin in training.
Can the non-roster players make an impact?
We’ve seen players come into Sounders FC camp as virtual unknowns many times before only to later play big roles in the club’s success. More often, though, the Sounders decide that they are better served with players already on their roster. Will any of the invitees this year change their minds? Only time will tell, but training camp in Arizona is one quick way to separate those who can play at the MLS level from those who can’t.