Sounders FC return to Qwest

The countdown to the franchise opener is at 11 days and the club practiced on the XBOX Pitch Monday in preparation.

Just 11 days away from their inaugural game, the Sounders FC held their first training session Monday morning at Qwest Field since returning from the Buenos Aires leg of training camp last week.

They did so with many new faces on the pitch and several seeing the team for the first time in over two weeks.  The most notable player to don the Sounders FC kit for the first time in training camp was midfielder Freddie Ljungberg, who joined the team for the first time after hip surgery in December.

While he spent the majority of the training session doing fitness work along the end lines, his presence was a welcome addition to the Seattle lineup.  Though limited to non-contact work, it was imposed by the team and not by Ljungberg’s limitations.

“It feels great.  There’s nothing I can’t do, so it’s all good,” Ljungberg said.  “I’m so much ahead of schedule that it looks too good to be true.  They’re a bit scared that if I do too much I’ll have a setback.  There is no pain in anything that I do, which is great, so that’s why they want me to take it step-by-step.”

With so much invested in the Swedish midfielder and Designated Player, head coach Sigi Schmid said Monday that the club doesn’t plan to pressure the former Arsenal star onto the field too soon.

“We’re going to look at it day-to-day.  We’re not pushing too much of a timetable on it.  We want to see how he gets through today, how he gets through tomorrow,” Schmid said.  “He’s trained a little bit of soccer before he came with a lower division team in Sweden.  This is a little bit faster, the tempo is a little bit quicker, so we’ll see how he goes each day and our expectation is that in 2-3 weeks he’ll be full-out in training.”

While he is focused on his own recovery, he is also meeting his new teammates, most of whom have spent the last seven weeks training together and bonding on trips to Ventura, California and Buenos Aires, Argentina.  He has a lot of catching up to do both in fitness and in cohesiveness.

“I’m here to try to learn the other players and with my experience when the pressure comes on that’s what people need,” Ljungberg said.  “They’re great players and I’m sure we’re going to get along and play very well together.”

The teammates he joined just returned from a four-game trip to Argentina and return more tanned and closer to the unit that will take the field for opening day against the New York Red Bulls March 19 at Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field.

They went 2-1-1 on the trip, improving their preseason record to 7-2-1 with one preseason game remaining on Thursday against the Colorado Rapids.

“I thought we did alright.  The last game against River Plate was the only negative result but negative results aren’t bad in preseason,” Schmid said.  “But I thought there were times where the cohesion up front was very good.  Fredy (Montero) continued to score goals, Nate (Jaqua) got goals and that was important for us.  And it’s given us a few more games to play Sebastien (Le Toux) on the left so he’s starting to get more comfortable on that side as well.”

Though the end result was good, weather problems nearly derailed the team for much of their trip.  That forced some games to be cancelled, others to be rescheduled and still others to be moved to remote turf fields that were less affected by the torrential downpours.

“It was a little bit frustrating.  We had a good game or two, then the weather didn’t cooperate and then we had some games cancelled and we had some makeup games and the competition wasn’t quite what we were hoping for.  Then we got stuck on a 1985 turf field, if you sprinkle a little glass on there it might have made it better,” goalkeeper Kasey Keller said.  “That was frustrating and little bit out of our hands, but it was positive.  We grew a little bit as a team.”

When they were able to get games in, the Sounders FC saw further cohesiveness from their backline, which had been the most fluid of the preseason.  Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who joined the team in Argentina, and Tyrone Marshall, who joined the team after a trade from Toronto FC less than three weeks ago, paired as central defenders only once, but were nearly instant successes, shutting out River Plate for a half and limiting opportunities.

The rest of the group continued where they left off in California, further building rapport with their teammates.

However, it is still too early to tell just how well the team is developing chemistry or just how they will stack up against MLS competition.

“I’m optimistic, but at the same time until you step on the field when it matters you can’t truly judge where you are,” Keller said.  “We’re starting to figure out who our starting 11 are and who those guys on the bench are and it’s really going to be important on Thursday in the final friendly to see exactly if those guys keep those spots or if somebody sneaks in there.  I’m quietly optimistic but until we get some real games under our belt it will be hard to tell where we are, truly.”

The Sounders FC will train Tuesday and Wednesday at Qwest Field before a closed-door training game against the Colorado Rapids Thursday.

NOTES: In addition to Ljungberg, midfielder Peter Vagenas also trained for the first time with the team.  He too, was limited to strength and conditioning drills on the side.  Forward Jarrod Smith was back with the team, but also training on the side.  Forward Kevin Forrest also rejoined the team after they returned from Argentina.  The 24-year-old UW product trained in Seattle in the week between the California and Argentina trips.  He was joined by his former Husky teammate Ely Allen, who played with the team in Argentina after his release from the LA Galaxy.  Another former Galaxy player, defender Mike Randolph, was there on trial, too.  Forward Jeff Clark, midfielder Ryan Caugherty, midfielder Mike Fucito, defender Jared Karkas and goalkeeper Evan Bush did not return to training with the team after the Argentina trip.