Three weeks from today, Sounders FC hosts the New England Revolution in its season opener.
To make their final preparations for MLS action, the Rave Green are heading to Tucson, Arizona, where they will train for the next two weeks while competing in the 2015 Desert Diamond Cup. The club will play four friendlies in a tournament that features four of its MLS foes. Seattle is guaranteed to face at least two of them – Sporting Kansas City on Saturday and the Revolution on February 25.
After spending a week in Seattle, the club is leaving for Arizona on Sunday. The technical staff has a couple of main goals for this trip: figure out the starting lineup and develop team chemistry.
“When we get into Arizona, we need to get our team refined,” Sporting Director Chris Henderson said. “We need to really focus on getting the guys playing on the same page.”
Henderson and the rest of the staff were pleased with the team’s performance at its first camp in Southern California. That trip was mostly about the players regaining their fitness, but the Rave Green also played friendlies against UCLA and the LA Galaxy. Head Coach Sigi Schmid employed separate 11-man lineups for the two halves in each game, giving some of the new players and trialists a chance to display their skills.
For the four games in Tucson, Schmid will be more focused on the team’s projected starters.
“We’ll be pushing guys to 60 to 75 minutes and closer to 90 at the very end,” Schmid said. “The objective is to get games for both groups of players so that everybody gets at least two to three games while we’re down there, and to start working on our shape and how we’re going to relate to each other on the field.”
One starting spot to keep an eye on during the coming weeks is central midfield. Osvaldo Alonso recently underwent right groin surgery – which could cause him to miss some regular-season matches – opening the door for Micheal Azira or Andy Rose to likely fill the void.
Sounders FC commences the Desert Diamond Cup on Wednesday against PDL side FC Tucson. Following matchups with new Western Conference foe Sporting KC and defending Eastern Conference champion New England, the Rave Green will play a fourth friendly on February 28, just eight days before their regular-season opener. Their opponent in that fourth match is dependent on the results of the first three games.
By training in Tucson for two weeks, the club will likely be able to take advantage of some warm weather. For some players, such as Lamar Neagle, the trip allows them to visit with old friends.
What it also does – whether or not the players prefer it – is get them away from their families and any potential distractions as they make final preparations for the regular season.
“I think that’s definitely part of the process and part of the reason why we do it,” said Neagle, who got married earlier in the offseason. “Especially for the guys who live here, it’s easy for us to go back to family. Some of the other guys don’t have that. So when we’re in training camp, you get some inside jokes and little tricks that guys play on each other, and you get a lot closer.”