Team settling in nicely at Casa Grande

It's been four days since the team arrived in Arizona and since then they've been getting plenty accomplished.

The 2013 preseason has been a similar story to previous seasons with the Sounders FC.

After starting training camp at their training facility at Starfire, they went through fitness testing at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, then moved on to Casa Grande, Arizona, for the next phase of camp.

That’s been the story for the last four seasons with the Sounders.

This year, however, is a whole new challenge at training camp.

“They’re all different, they’re all comparable,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said.  “They are different because it is always a slightly different group, a different mood.”

Six players who started playoff matches for the Sounders in 2012 are not in camp yet as they just finished their second week as they look to form their identity without national team campers Brad Evans, Eddie Johnson, Mario Martinez and Adam Johansson and after the departures of Jeff Parke and Fredy Montero.

With the team’s top forwards out of camp, that has opened up opportunities for players to compete for playing time up top, while the departure of Parke and an injury to Patrick Ianni have also created chances for players on the back line as well.

While that has meant increased time for Zach Scott and Eriq Zavaleta, it has also meant the Sounders have brought players into camp like Mason Trafford, a Canadian international who played for the last three years with IFK Mariehamn in Finalnd, to seek to fill the void.

“We feel, in the near-term that we have enough quality to get by in that position, but there’s certainly a lot of opportunities for guys to show that they deserve playing time,” Schmid said.

Even with those gaps, the Sounders have had an upbeat camp through two weeks and with their first preseason match against the Portland Timbers just around the corner on Tuesday in Tucson, they are showing positive signs.

“There’s a good vibe in the camp, a good camaraderie as well.  Fitness-wise, we are equal or ahead of where we were last year at this time,” Schmid said.

The Sounders coach singled out Mauro Rosales and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado as two of the highlights in camp for him so far and as they get players back into camp after matches on February 6, or sooner, the team will look more and more sharp and match-ready.

The fitness level of the team, as a whole, has also allowed the coaches to make changes to their plans and it has shown early rewards.

“The guys came in fairly good, but we’ve also altered how we’re training and we are working on guys we felt had some fitness deficits to make sure that they bring up those deficits without putting the pressure of playing a lot of soccer on them and that’s starting to pay dividends for us,” Schmid said.  “It’s something that we’ll continue to grow and continue to improve upon, but I’m pleased with the overall level of where we are.”

The Sounders will train twice on Saturday as they work into the final days of the Casa Grande stage of training camp.  They are scheduled to return to Seattle after Tuesday’s match against the Timbers, which will be streamed live on SoundersFC.com.

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