Sounders achieving top fitness at perfect time

Heading into the 2013 season, the Sounders are in good shape both physically and mentally.

TUCSON, Ariz. – Throughout the preseason, Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid has touted the fitness level of his team as they’ve motored through training camp.

Now, with two weeks to go before MLS opener on March 2 when the Sounders will host the Montreal Impact, that fitness is being put to the test as Seattle will play three matches in a four-day stretch in the final weekend before starting the 2013 season.

Monday was the last day of fitness work for the team as they ready themselves for that stretch of games with an eye on the season opener and the all-important two matches that follow in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League against Tigres of Mexico on March 6 and March 12.

The team is aiming to be 90-minutes fit before opening night, so these next three matches will prove vital in preparations for the start to the season.

“You really don’t become 90-minutes fit until you start playing 90 minutes in games and that makes CONCACAF Champions League a difficult proposition for MLS teams this early in the season,” Schmid said, noting that MLS teams are starting their seasons while teams from Mexico will have been well into theirs. “A lot of our concentration in these games will be on focusing in the last 15 minutes of the game.”

Always on the cutting edge in the realm of exercise science, the Sounders have taken their fitness analysis a step further in 2013, by adding staff under fitness coach Dave Tenney. This year, the club promoted Chad Kolarcik to a full-time role from his internship with the club in 2012 and hired performance analyst Ravi Ramineni to help sort through and analyze the data gathered in each training session and match.

“We’re getting a lot more data than we have in the past and the three of us are combining to make the most out of that data that we can,” Tenney said.

That has allowed Schmid, Tenney and the rest of the coaching staff to better evaluate and prepare training sessions each day through training camp and ensure that they are physically ready for the start of the season.

That has meant going lighter on some days to let players recover and adding extra fitness work to the end of a training session, as they did on Monday after an off-day on Sunday.

“This is the work you have to put in because it will pay off during the season,” said midfielder Steve Zakuani, who is in his first unrestricted training camp since 2011.

One other thing that has helped Tenney prepare the team in training camp was the work that the players did in the off-season to ensure that they were ready for preseason.

They came into training camp back in January with better fitness numbers, as a whole, than they had in any previous years. While the players at the top of the fitness spectrum stayed relatively even, the players at the bottom narrowed that gap. Add to that four players who spent the first month of camp away on national team duty – each playing extended minutes on the international level after going through training camps of their own – and the 2013 Sounders are nearly ready to start the season.

That should be music to the ears of Schmid and owner Adrian Hanauer, who have put faith in the sports science field where other teams have not.

“Adrian and Sigi have invested in the sports science side and because of that, I’ve been able to get Chad and Ravi with me and they’re both really smart guys that will add a lot of benefit to what we’re doing,” Tenney said.

The Sounders will meet the New York Red Bulls in their next preseason match on Wednesday at 6 pm PT from Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium in Tucson. The match will be streamed live on SoundersFC.com.

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