Four things to look for while the Sounders are in Tucson

Four things to look for while the Sounders are in Tucson

The team's second preseason trip of the year kicks off this week as it is back in Arizona for 12 days...and a number of matches.

On Monday, the Sounders FC departs for Tucson, Ariz., for the next phase of 2013 training camp, one ripe with competition as the Sounders will play four matches in the Desert Diamond Cup and a friendly against Mexico's Veracruz.

On Saturday, head coach Sigi Schmid addressed the focal points of this phase of camp.

“The next two weeks, the most important thing for us is to really put the pieces of the team together.  To work on our team shape defensively.  To work on our offensive cohesion and understanding.  To get the pieces of the puzzle on the field together,” Schmid said.

Today, we take a closer look at some of those pieces mentioned by Schmid.

Defensive shape

In 2012, the Sounders began utilizing their defenders much more in possession.  One element to that was the play of Adam Johansson at right back.  Now that he is back from international duty with Sweden, the Sounders will be able to better explore the use of their outside backs in that mold.

Until Patrick Ianni returns from a fractured foot, the Sounders won’t be at full strength on the back line, but they will continue to get a look at Djimi Traore as a possible partner in the back for Jhon Kennedy Hurtado as they build that shape that Schmid speaks of.  He fell ill late in camp, but Eriq Zavaleta could also prove very important to the shape of the back line too, and Schmid and the coaches will get a chance to examine his play there while the Sounders play

Offensive cohesion

It’s easy to forget that the Sounders have been without three very important cogs to their offense so far in training camp while Brad Evans, Mario Martinez and Eddie Johnson have been away on international duty.  Now with that trio back with the team, Schmid will be more equipped to explore different starting combinations, formations and substitute patterns.

In their first preseason match against the Portland Timbers last week, Steve Zakuani and Mauro Rosales shined as outside midfielders.  With the team back to their full complement of attacking options, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that one could wind up as the forward partner for Johnson.

Several training sessions will tell, but fans will be able to get a good look as well during the Desert Diamond Cup matches that will be streamed live on SoundersFC.com.

Piecing together the puzzle

The forward combination is just one component to the puzzle for the 2013 edition of the Sounders FC.  Johnson has proven to be a great scoring option at one forward spot, while Sammy Ochoa and David Estrada have been quite capable alongside Johnson.  However, Schmid has also indicated the possibility of moving players from the crowded midfield into a forward role.  Zakuani, Martinez and Rosales are all possibilities for that conversion, as is a switch to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation – a break from the 4-4-2 that has been generally used by Schmid in the past with Seattle.

That puzzle also consists of a midfield that only truly has one player locked into his role – MLS Best XI defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso.  The rest – Zakuani, Martinez, Rosales, Evans and Christian Tiffert among them – could play any of several roles for Schmid.  Maximizing that group, along with the aforementioned depth players, is among the tasks ahead.

“Who are we going to play up front next to Eddie?” Schmid said.  “Right now, in the short term, who we’re going to play in the back, next to Kennedy - those are some of the immediate questions that we’ve got to answer in the next two weeks and see where we’re at when we start the season.”

Games, and plenty of them

The Sounders will be playing five matches, starting on Wednesday against the New England Revolution.  For the first time, though, those matches will be streamed live online at SoundersFC.com, so fans can follow all the action throughout the preseason.

After Wednesday’s opener, they will face Real Salt Lake on Saturday, then the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, February 20.  Their final standing through those three matches will determine who they would play in their final match on Saturday, February 23.  The first-place match will be televised live on NBC Sports, while the third-place match will be streamed online.

The club also finalized arrangements for an additional match against Veracruz of the Mexican second division.

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