The long and winding road of the 2014 season will see Sounders FC board its first plane of the year on Wednesday when the team flies to Arizona to spend the next 12 days in Tucson. With nine full-team training sessions and four matches on the schedule, it will be a busy time on the field, but Seattle will also be working off the field to build the camaraderie that yields championships.
“It’s good from a standpoint of team-building and team camaraderie. Guys get to know each other,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s good for them to get away. There are a lot of positive things in terms of going away.”
In Tucson, Sounders FC will be greeted by temperatures that are expected to climb into the 80s and plenty of time between training sessions to get to know their teammates.
That will include a day off on Sunday for the players to watch the Super Bowl together, as well as other opportunities for the players to spend time together.
“It’s always nice to get to some warm weather and it’s a good time to hang out with all the guys and establish that camaraderie and chemistry and hopefully it carries onto the field,” said Chad Marshall, who spent 10 seasons with the Columbus Crew before a trade to the Sounders this offseason. “The relationships you build off the field carry onto the field and you want to battle for those guys, so it’s important.”
While the faces have changed, what needs to be done in Tucson hasn’t.
“There are new players on the team, but it’s going to be the same,” said Osvaldo Alonso. “We have to train hard and give everything we have every training session and we’ll see what we have in the preseason.”
Last year, Seattle won the Desert Diamond Cup with four victories over Real Salt Lake, the New England Revolution and the New York Red Bulls.
This year, Sounders FC won’t play in the Desert Diamond Cup, instead playing friendlies against the Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and San Jose Earthquakes, with a second match against Vancouver in Casa Grande, Arizona.
“From a soccer standpoint, I really look forward to it because that’s when we stop playing against each other and we get an opportunity to test ourselves against MLS competition,” said Seattle defender Zach Scott.
In previous years, the first trip of the preseason is dedicated almost entirely to fitness work, but this year, a shortened preseason puts more emphasis on getting matches in early in training camp.
“In the past we were able to dedicate a week to 10 days for just basically fitness. We’ve still done that, to a certain extent,” Schmid said. “We wanted to make sure everybody got five or six games before the season started. We feel between the Charleston tournament and the games in Tucson, we’ll be OK.”
This is the first of two road trips Seattle will take before opening the season on March 8 against Sporting Kansas City. The second trip runs from February 19-March 2 in Charleston, South Carolina.