Kellyn Rowe Preseason 3-1-2021
Bryan Babcock

Four takeaways as Sounders FC kicks off 2021 MLS preseason

It feels good to be back.

After a longer-than-usual offseason, Seattle Sounders FC returned to the training pitch on Monday for the first day of the 2021 MLS preseason. While the roster for the upcoming campaign looks a bit different from last year, the objectives remain the same.

With the squad back together, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer outlined his priorities for the coming weeks as they ramp up toward the full return of soccer: (1) get the guys fit, (2) work together to find solutions for the injury to Jordan Morris and (3) assess the young players in camp.

Business as Usual

Head Coach Brian Schmetzer didn’t mince words following the first day of practice when discussing the squad’s goals for 2021 season.

“We’re still going to work them hard,” he said. “Our goal is still MLS Cup. Every game we go to, we’re going to compete to win.”

Midfielder Cristian Roldan, still just 25 years old and entering his seventh season as a Sounder, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s another preseason,” said Roldan. “Another year with a chance at some trophies. That’s our mindset going forward. It’s really like any other year. We’re going to be at our best and hopefully we can start off on the right foot.”

Tactical Diversity

During media availability on Friday, Schmetzer once again floated the idea that the Sounders could deploy various formational setups this season. With two starting-caliber strikers on the roster in Raúl Ruidíaz and Will Bruin, the Sounders steward indicated that the coaching staff has considered several potential tactical systems, including a 4-4-2 diamond and a 3-5-2.

“I would say there’s a strong possibility that we’re going to put some more work into a secondary formation,” he said. “Just to see what that looks like.”

Youths Everywhere

In recent years, one of the staples of preseason has been fans getting a glimpse of the future of the club.

Each year, the coaching staff brings along some of the top prospects in the club’s development apparatus, including Tacoma Defiance players and Sounders Academy talents. That tradition has continued in 2021, with a total of 11 players from the development pipeline named to the preseason roster on Monday.

Asked about 17-year-old Homegrown Player Danny Leyva, Schmetzer noted that 2020 was a bit of an anomaly for the young midfielder, as he missed most of the compressed season through injury.

“I have high hopes for Danny,” said Schmetzer. “I hope the kid makes it. He’s a great kid, works hard. He’s a smart soccer player, so there’s expectations there that go along with some of those high hopes.”

Schmetzer also mentioned he was impressed with the early showings from U-17 defender Cody Baker, a 2004 from Issaquah capable at playing across the back line.

Swiss-Army Knife(s)

Another interesting trend for this year’s roster is the presence of two extremely versatile players: Cristian Roldan and Kelyn Rowe. As the team mulls over the possibilities of new formations and different lineups, their pliability will be a valuable resource in the months to come.

“Part of it is where [Rowe] sees himself,” added Schmetzer. “The other part of it is where there’s a need. Again, if we play 3-5-2, could he be a wingback? His career at UCLA and a lot if it in New England was as a no. 10, a playmaker, underneath the forwards. So, in a 4-diamond-2, could he spell Nico? There’s plenty of options.”

Schmetzer also joked that Roldan’s adaptability makes him a viable option for any spot on the pitch.

 “Cristian is penciled in for every single position besides goalkeeper,” remarked Schmetzer. “Although he could probably play goalkeeper, too.”

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