After eight days in Arizona the Sounders FC has now returned home to Seattle.
On Tuesday, they played their first preseason game of the 2013 season, falling 1-0 against the Portland Timbers. Results from preseason are never much of an indication of regular season success, particularly when players only play 45 minutes in a 90-minute match. However, the Sounders were able to get a lot out of their week in Casa Grande, Arizona, and the preseason meeting with the Timbers.
All that despite going the whole trip without four starters who were away for international duty, one left back in Seattle to rehab an injury and one more – 2012 MLS Best XI selection Osvaldo Alonso – limited by an injury in camp. Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson are with the US National Team, who will meet Mario Martinez and Honduras Wednesday afternoon at 1 Pacific in a World Cup qualifier in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Meanwhile, Adam Johansson is with Sweden as they host Argentina in a friendly in Stockholm, Sweden. Patrick Ianni, on the other hand, suffered a fractured foot just days before the Sounders left for Arizona and did not make the trip.
Add to that the absences of several other players because of illness and the final day of camp was just a matter of survival in the desert.
Even still, there were several things the Sounders were able to learn in the match.
David Estrada is a motivated individual
Several players fell ill on Monday and were unable to train with the team and Estrada was one of them, limiting just how much he was able to celebrate his 25th birthday.
On Tuesday morning, though, there was no question in his mind that he would be playing when the game kicked off. He had a highlight reel play in the 30th minute, darting past Michael Harrington, hesitating, then leaving Will Johnson in his dust on his path to the endline. Nobody could get on the end of his cross, but the burst was a welcome sight from a player who could stand to see a lot of playing time after the departure of Fredy Montero.
Estrada left the game at halftime, then returned in the 68th minute when the team ran out of attacking players to sub into the match for Supplemental Draft selection Lebogang Moloto, who was thrust into a starting role in the middle of midfield.
Creativity is there on the wings.
Without Evans, Alonso and Martinez, the Sounders were left to improvise, and who better at improvisation than Steve Zakuani and Mauro Rosales?
Throughout the first half, Rosales showed that he can be the firestarter for the offense while Zakuani displayed his blistering pace on the left side and will soon add to that the flare of his finishing as he builds to the season opener. Re-inserting the remaining pieces to the offensive puzzle will only make those two wing-men more potent
With fitness will come better soccer
The Sounders are training for a March 2 match against the Montreal Impact and not a February 5 preseason match against the Portland Timbers. So, naturally, the fitness work of the team is geared toward a bigger goal, leaving the team loaded up with strenuous training sessions in the first two weeks of camp.
“That first 45 is difficult. It’s amazing how fast you lose the fitness,” defender Zach Scott, who played the first half of the match at right back. “Fitnesswise, we’re taking a jump forward and understanding the new parts we have around us.”
Added Rosales, “I think the more important thing is the fitness. It’s a long season and we have many games ahead. We need to build our fitness first, then our technique and the soccer is going to come.”
There is much reason for optimism.
Take a look at the list of players that are expected to see regular time in the 2013 season who did not see the field on Tuesday. Eddie Johnson. Brad Evans. Mario Martinez. Adam Johansson. Osvaldo Alonso. Michael Gspurning. Patrick Ianni. Eriq Zavaleta. Andy Rose. Christian Tiffert. Alex Caskey. Lamar Neagle.
Save the left back spot, you could put together a veritable starting 11 and a good one at that.
Contrast that with the Timbers lineup that was missing goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and forward Ryan Johnson and midfielder Jack Jewsbury to injury. That’s it.
These were two teams at very different points of their preseasons and by the time March 2 comes around the lineup on the field will be much different for the Sounders FC.
“It’ll come along,” Scott said. “I think we’re all optimistic about where this team is going.”
The Sounders returned to Seattle on Tuesday and will resume training at Starfire on Friday. They will head back to Tucson, Ariz., on Monday for their next match on February 13 against the New England Revolution.