Focus shifts from preseason as First Kick against SKC nears

After 38 days of preseason training that included two 12-day trips to Tucson, Ariz., and Charleston, SC, Sounders FC returned to Seattle on Sunday and shifted its attention quickly toward preparations for the season-opening match against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.

Those 38 days helped Seattle integrate new players up and down the roster while also building fitness and cohesion, finding success throughout training camp, finishing with a 6-0-3 record.

“I think for all of us, building confidence in the preseason is a big thing. I think we can all feel good about the work we’ve put in and the quality looks good,” said newcomer Kenny Cooper, who scored his first goal of preseason in the finale against D.C. United on Saturday. “Everyone has really put in an honest effort over the last month and we’ve gotten to know each other. It’s an exciting time and hopefully with all the work we’ve put in, we can get off to a good start.”

The chemistry that Head Coach Sigi Schmid hoped to see built within his team was never more present than in the final match, a 2-2 draw with D.C. United. On several occasions, Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso and Marco Pappa created a triangle to build from through the midfield while Lamar Neagle, Obafemi Martins and Cooper created chaos in the attacking third.

“I thought Evans and Alonso did well together in the middle of midfield today and I thought Pappa found good times to come off the line and add to that midfield and add to that playmaking trio,” Schmid said, noting the contributions of outside backs Dylan Remick and DeAndre Yedlin. “That opened up space for Dylan to get forward, he got an assist on the first goal. And we got space on the other side with DeAndre getting forward as well. I was pleased how that all worked together.”

Schmid has options all over the field. In addition to a stiff goalkeeper competition that could finish with either Marcus Hahnemann or newcomer Stefan Frei in the starting role, the preseason showed that Seattle has depth at multiple positions.

Remick and Sean Okoli had particularly strong preseasons, pushing Okoli into consideration for a spot on the bench while Remick’s emergence at left back allows the club to be patient with Leo Gonzalez, who had offseason groin surgery and didn’t play more than 60 minutes in a game during the preseason.

“I think we have alternatives at different places,” Schmid said. “I thought Leo played well this morning and Remick is maturing and growing with each game.”

Yedlin suffered an ankle injury on Saturday and while Schmid indicated afterward that he didn’t anticipate the knock from keeping him out of the season opener this week, he has plenty of options at that position as well, with Evans and Jalil Anibaba both showing well there in stints during the preseason. Evans earned the starting nod in that role with the U.S. National Team last year, while Anibaba played every minute of every match at right back for the Chicago Fire last season before an offseason trade brought him to Seattle.

This week, Seattle will bring in one more major piece to its puzzle when Clint Dempsey returns from a two-month loan stint with Fulham in England and a U.S. National Team friendly with Ukraine on Wednesday.

While the team has built chemistry in Dempsey’s absence, it is also confident that he will be able to transition seamlessly into the team when he gets to Seattle on Thursday.

“Clint is someone that we’re all familiar with,” Cooper said. “I don’t think we’ll really need a lot of time to feel comfortable around him. He’s a great player and I think we’re all excited about his arrival.”

Further integrating Dempsey into the group is one of the goals for the final week before opening the season, but is far from the only thing Schmid and his team will look to accomplish in the four remaining training sessions before the season kicks off.

“We want to make sure that we’re rested and we’re ready to go. That we’re sharp and we’re energetic,” Schmid said. “I think our ball movement has gotten better since we’ve been here. I think we need to work on some things defensively and shore those things up and make sure that we’re more dangerous on our set pieces and that we don’t give any up.”

Seattle will host Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at 12 pm PT in a nationally televised match on NBC Sports.

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