Second-year striker Darwin Jones is tearing up during the Sounders' preseason, thanks to his roommate Clint Dempsey.
As the head men’s soccer coach at the University of California, Los Angeles, Sigi Schmid made it an annual tradition to pair seniors with incoming freshmen as a way to pass down the values of the program.
Upperclassmen forwards would partner with underclassmen forwards and wingbacks with wingbacks, imparting not just mentorship but the occasional on-field skill.
“I think that’s also been a tradition in soccer,” Schmid explained. “Every player, if you talk to him, I’m sure there’s a player who really helped him and influenced him.”
It’s an idea Schmid has carried over to the pros, from the Galaxy to the Crew to the Sounders. Former Sounder Leo Gonzalez, in particular, embraced the system, taking a steady stream of rookie outside backs under his wing during his seven years in Seattle.
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This preseason, another coupling has paid dividends.
Veteran Clint Dempsey and second-year striker Darwin Jones roomed together throughout the Tucson, Ariz., portion of the preseason. And coincidentally or not, depending on much you submit to Schmid’s theory, that also overlapped with the hottest stretch of Jones’ young career.
Jones scored against both the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers while in Tucson and bagged a pair of goals in the scrimmage against UCLA last week.
Does the former UW Husky give any credit to Dempsey’s influence? “I think it has helped, actually,” Jones said. “His whole mentality, where he wants the ball and wants to beat defenders and take shots, I’ve tried to do the same thing to create opportunities.”
The duo spent much of the offseason together, as well, from workouts to catching the casual soccer game together.
“He was like my big bro,” Jones said. “I was soaking up a lot of information from him.”
And with the not-insignificant caveat that preseason form should always, always be taken with a grain of salt, there are minutes to be had on the Sounders front line.
The Obafemi-Martins-to-China deal still hasn’t been officially confirmed, but given that Martins has been photographed holding a Shanghai Shenhua uniform and is already practicing with his prospective new team, that’s just a matter of paperwork submission. The remaining starting forwards in Seattle’s new 4-3-3 formation – Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Nelson Valdez – are all likely national team call-ups for this summer’s Copa America Centenario tournament.
“We’ve got to look and make a smart decision, not a knee-jerk decision,” Schmid said of the potential Martins vacuum. “Right now, there’s enough quality and depth there.”
The quality and depth he mentioned includes Jones, who is still a back end of the rotation guy – at best – at this point in his career but who has made opportunities count in 2016. The formation change is likely to only help his quest for playing time, as is a full-time move from center forward to winger.
“Psychologically, he’s taken a huge step forward, in terms of his daily approach to training, in terms of his attitude, his focus when he steps on the field,” Schmid said. “… There are still aspects of his game that he can get better at, but from a standpoint of having mentally made the adjustment to be a pro, he’s definitely made that.”
A few additional nuggets from Saturday morning’s practice session at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila:
– Roman Torres made a cameo appearance as he continues his recovery from a knee injury suffered last fall. The big center back rumbled around the perimeter of the practice field, jogging laps in an early attempt to regain fitness.
Even the most optimistic of prognoses doesn’t put Torres back in game action any earlier than this summer.
“(He’s) pretty much on schedule,” Schmid said, “maybe a little bit ahead at this stage. We’re really happy with how he’s been progressing.”
– New majority owner Adrian Hanauer spoke about what changes with that new job title – which apparently isn’t much.
“Still the same relationship with my partners and (owner) Joe (Roth),” Hanauer said. “Still stomach aches heading into the season like every season.”
– On how season-ticket sales were progressing, Hanauer was also tepid.
“Nothing overwhelming or underwhelming,” he said. “Just steady growth.”