Last year Sounders FC selected a pair of centerbacks on the first day of the MLS SuperDraft. Neither one of them made an appearance for the club in 2014, but both have been working hard to make sure they are ready to contribute in year two.
The club might need them to contribute, too.
Damion Lowe sat out most of last season with a hip injury, while Jimmy Ockford was loaned to the New York Cosmos in the NASL. This year there could be an opening at centerback, however, as Jalil Anibaba is no longer in Seattle and veteran Zach Scott is recovering from foot surgery. Seattle’s lineup could very well feature one of the second-year players alongside reigning MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall.
It’s a good sign for Sounders FC fans that the technical staff has been impressed by Lowe and Ockford during preseason training camp.
“They’re both making progress,” Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “They’re both young centerbacks that we think have a very good future with the club. We’ve got to continue to allow them to grow and develop.”
One reason for Lowe and Ockford’s stellar play during training camp is the chemistry between them. The two have known each other since they were college seniors in 2013, when Lowe played at the University of Hartford and Ockford at the University of Louisville. That year, the duo also started on the backline of Reading United A.C. in the USL Premier Development League.
That season with Reading is paying dividends at Sounders FC camp.
“I know a lot about his game, and he knows a lot about mine. And I think that helps a lot,” Ockford said of Lowe. “We’re both young players, but I think we have a connection already, so it’s good moving forward for our team.”
As they continue to develop their own chemistry during the preseason, Lowe and Ockford are also trying to pick up as much as possible from Sounders FC’s veteran defenders. They and left back Dylan Remick are all age 23 or younger, while the rest of the club’s backline is age 30 or older.
“Learning from Chad Marshall, Defender of the Year, I’ve ramped up my game a lot,” Lowe said. “This year, I’m just using that experience to pull me forward.”
Lowe added that it’s also beneficial practicing against Seattle’s group of talented, experienced forwards. This week he’s been tasked with defending the likes of Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle, among others.
“I look forward to that,” Lowe said. “I get game-like situations even though I’m not playing in a game. I know what is to come from other teams and other players. It pushes me a lot and challenges me. It forces me to become a good player.”
To close out their first preseason camp, Lowe and the Sounders will play two friendlies in Southern California. They face collegiate side UCLA on Wednesday and MLS rival LA Galaxy on Friday.
It’s a prime chance for the young defenders to show the coaches they are ready for MLS action.