There was a festive feel to the start of the Sounders’ fourth portion of preseason training camp Tuesday.
The club welcomed internationals in Joao Paulo (Brazil), Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador), Cristian Roldan (U.S.), Jordan Morris (U.S.) and Alex Roldan (El Salvador) back this week and traveled to Palm Springs, California. The trip will include two 90-minute matches against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Thursday.
Joao Paulo’s arrival was delayed due to the green-card application process. The other four players were with their respective national teams for World Cup qualifying matches.
“The energy in the locker room is great,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I’m super excited about this last camp. Preseason training began with the first of two stints in Washington and 10 days in Arizona.
“Camp was kind of jumbled just because we were missing some really important pieces. The physical component of this camp has gone according to plan. Maybe the tactical stuff … those are the nuances I’m hoping to cram in in this last eight days before we head off down to Honduras. So, there’s some challenges still to be met.”
Tuesday afternoon was the first session on the field with the bulk of the first-team players. It marks the final lead-up for the CONCACAF Champions League opener against Honduras side F.C. Motagua on Feb. 17.
Sounders defender Nouhou is the only first-choice player who hasn’t joined the team. He helped Cameroon place third in the Africa Cup of Nations tournament and remains in his native country awaiting his green card.
Nouhou likely won’t feature against the Galaxy but is expected to play in the CCL match. Schmetzer added Nico Lodeiro, who was limited due to two knee surgeries last season, will also play against Motagua but the other late arrivals could be limited.
“JP has been training on his own, but it was a program that was devised by our people,” Schmetzer said. “Guys that haven’t been in camp certainly have been training and they’ve been training at a good level. We’ll integrate them as the medical guys see fit.
“It’s a long season, it’s a condensed season, there’s lots of competitions. Having a full roster of healthy players is going to be key.”
‘Albert adds another dimension’
In greeting Joao Paulo back to camp, Schmetzer cut the pleasantries short to tell him about former Real Salt Lake star Albert Rusnak, who Seattle signed as a designated player last month.
“I talked to (JP), how’s his family, how are you doing, blah, blah, blah,” Schmetzer said. “Albert’s been really good, you’ll like playing with him. I did the same thing with Nico a couple days ago and the same thing with Cristian.”
Joao Paulo was a league MVP finalist last season. The two-way player was superior in service from set pieces, replacing Lodeiro in the assignment, and finished with 11 assists. Rusnak, a versatile midfielder, tallied 11 assists with RSL and bagged 11 goals last year.
In a rarity, Schmetzer boasted about the offensive capabilities of the team, although he’s noted in the past it will take time to build the on-field chemistry, and assessments are based on training.
The Sounders were eighth in MLS in total goals last season with 53. The club record is 65 team goals in 2014 when the Sounders won the MLS Supporters’ Shield.
“I’ll get right to the point; we’re going to be really good offensively,” Schmetzer said. “Albert adds another dimension. He loves shooting from the top of the box, his set pieces are good. You’re bringing Jordan back; Nico is coming back. The team looks pretty good offensively.”
Sounders midfielders Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva remain out due to undisclosed injuries. Schmetzer said they traveled with the team to California to help off-field bonding but aren’t expected to be available for selection against the Galaxy.
Additional youth and Tacoma Defiance players are also still with the team to help fill out the lineups for Thursday and vie for first-team contracts.
“We’re going to need those two young (men),” Schmetzer said of Atencio, 20, and Leyva, 18. “It’s unfortunate that they got injured, but we’ll make do.”
Atencio solidified himself in the rotation last year, starting 18 of his 24 matches and recording two MLS assists. Leyva was signed in 2019 and made a MLS career-high 24 appearances last year with eight starts.