The Sounders resumed their training camp at CenturyLink Field on Sunday in preparation for a key trip to Charleston, SC this week, where three exhibition games over a 10-day period should answer plenty of roster questions.
The Sounders got down to more soccer-oriented business at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, resuming camp with a fast-paced workout of roster players minus the trialists seen so often in the early stages of the preseason. Joining them for the first time since the MLS Cup win were U.S. Men’s National Team returnees Brad Evans, Jordan Morris and Chad Marshall, as the team prepares to head to Charleston, S.C. this week for the most critical preseason phase.
Evans welcomed the week off the trio received following the national team camp’s conclusion and his appearance Sunday. This was the seventh January camp for veteran Evans, 31, with the national squad and he’s constantly looking to snatch some rest where he can get it.
“It’s that repetitive, non-stop calendar year that can catch up, so it’s good to get these breaks when you get back home and catch your legs,” he said.
While the first phase of camp, which concluded in Tucson last week, dealt primarily with conditioning, this latest workout was more about honing the finer points of players’ games.
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Evans said head coach Brian Schmetzer preached the importance of “finishing” chances in front of the goal throughout the hour-long session. “I think we know what formation we have, so we’re not implementing a new system,” Evans said. “Now, it’s all getting guys cohesive, getting guys together. Making sure that we’re sharp in front of the goal. Making sure everything’s competitive so that when we do hit our games in Charleston and our game in Houston to open up the season that we’re not skipping a beat.
“We don’t expect to be the best team in the world come the first game, but we’ve got to do our best now to make it easier on ourselves as the season goes on. You talk about how seasons go, you can start hot and you can end hot. Ultimately, you’d like to not dig a hole and have to get out of that hole and claw yourself out.”
That. of course, was the story of the team’s MLS Cup winning run last season. The odds of repeating that turnaround — climbing out from the Western Conference basement to win it all after firing their longtime coach — probably aren’t the greatest. So, as Evans says, it will be key to avoid a similar early slump, especially with the status of veterans like Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei and Clint Dempsey still questionable with the season less than a month away.
Answers to some of those health questions could be found in Charleston, where the Sounders play three key exhibition games over a 10-day phase of camp.
Schmetzer has yet to announce the roster that will depart for Charleston on Thursday following workouts in Tukwila on Monday and Tuesday. He was in player meetings after Sunday’s workout and is expected to have the travel roster set by Monday.
One bonus for the team that was missing early last season should be the improved confidence of second-year striker Morris. Evans said he noted how Morris appeared less tentative and demanded the ball frequently while training with the national side.
Part of that comes, undoubtedly, from the Mercer Island native winning MLS Rookie of the Year honors last season after going goaless in his first five games. Morris said he began feeling more confident after scoring his first MLS goal last season and it carried over throughout the season and into camp with the national side last month.
“Definitely, I think the first few camps it’s always you come in as the new guy, the young guy,” Morris said of his national team experience. “I’m not a loud personality in any way on the field or off the field. But once you get more comfortable, and I got to know the guys a little bit more, it definitely helped out in terms on on the field, and being confident.”