Sounders international players return to camp

After being absent from the first half of the preseason, the Sounders return to full strength with the return of their four international players.

The 20th day of Sounders FC preseason felt a little more complete as the team trained at Starfire in a brief stop before heading back on the road to Arizona for the next phase of camp.

For the first time in 2013 camp, Seattle had Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson with them after the two had been off at US National Team training camp in January, then with the team in Honduras for the first match in the hexagonal round of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.  Defender Adam Johansson also rejoined the team after playing with Sweden in the King’s Cup in Thailand and in a friendly against Argentina last week in Stockholm, Sweden.

“It’s like coming to the first day of school,” smiled Evans after his first training session of 2013 with the Sounders.  “There’s a lot of new faces, but it’s the same old stuff.”

Evans, 27, had perhaps his best season in MLS in 2012 with four goals and four assists while making 29 starts for the Sounders, playing a variety of positions including right back and center back.  He was called in to his third January camp and impressed US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann enough to earn a roster spot for the qualifying match against Honduras, though he did not feature in the match.

Even still, he was able to gain a lot from the camp and comes to the team motivated for more success, particularly seeing how Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi was able to parlay success in January camp into a strong season in 2012 and a more frequent call to the US squad.

“I think everyone has certain goals that they set for themselves.  I saw what Graham did last year when he took advantage of that January camp and it propelled him to a great year with the national team and a regular fixture,” Evans said.  “There is an opportunity for guys who are playing in MLS.  It’s not just a closed door and only guys in Europe can play on the national team.  That’s not the way it is anymore.”

Johansson, 29, has been in and out of Sweden’s picture since joining the Sounders a year ago, but of late has been included in their regular camps.  He started 21 matches at right back for the Sounders last year.

“Starting playing games early is really important and I feel like I’m in really good shape,” he said.  “I felt good in Thailand, then I got called in to the Argentina game too.  It felt really good to be with the national team.”

Playing the final 30 minutes of the match against Argentina, Johansson squared off with FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi, an opportunity that had Johansson smiling still on Saturday.

“He’s probably the best player in the world and watching him play was fantastic,” he said.  “Trying to stop him was fine, too.”

Johnson, 28, led the Sounders with 14 goals in 2012, bringing his career back on track and putting him back in the picture with the US National Team, where he was a mainstay until falling out of favor in 2010.  He has started in the last three World Cup qualifying matches for the US.

It was far from a full group as the Sounders work towards the next phase of training camp when they leave Monday for Tucson, Arizona, though.  Osvaldo Alonso was away in Miami joining the league’s marketing efforts and will rejoin the team in Arizona and Mario Martinez had an excused absence from training and will also join the team in Arizona after playing five matches with Honduras already this year, including a 2-1 win over the US in their World Cup qualifying match on Wednesday.

The Sounders will take Sunday off, then head to Tucson on Monday.  Their next preseason match will be Wednesday against the New England Revolution and the trip to Tucson will also feature matches against Real Salt Lake and the New York Red Bulls.