The Sounders are spending part of their preseason in Tucson for the fourth consecutive preseason. And though coach Sigi Schmid said Seattle owes Charleston, S.C., another winter trip at some point, this is becoming an annual standby.

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TUCSON, Ariz. — The cab driver grumbled about the pre-rush-hour line of cars backing up at the stoplight, wrenching his wheel toward side streets in search of an alternative route.

Traffic isn’t usually much of a problem in this town, he explained, but the annual gem and mineral show is this weekend, and snowbirds have migrated south for the winter.

There’s that soccer thing, too — though at this he brightened, saying he had tickets for one of the sessions next week.

Tucson doesn’t have a Major League Soccer team. But its preseason Desert Friendlies and Desert Diamond Cup — both bring together half of the league’s 20 teams — have established Arizona’s second city as an annual MLS destination.

The Sounders are spending part of their preseason in Tucson for the fourth consecutive preseason. And though coach Sigi Schmid said Seattle owes Charleston, S.C., another winter trip at some point, this is becoming an annual standby.

“I think they’ve been great hosts,” Schmid said. “You have a number of different teams in the area, so that’s good. They’ve done a good job with the field. They’ve gotten better every year.”

Schmid pointed to Wednesday’s unorthodox preseason opener an example of the host club’s hospitality.

Though Seattle and Vancouver had agreed to play three halves to get their full rosters some run, injuries meant the Whitecaps had enough bodies to play only a standard 90-minute game. So FC Tucson stepped in for the final half and, ever the gracious hosts, surrendered a late, winning goal to Seattle’s Aaron Kovar.

Scenic as Seattle’s base in the Catalina Foothills is, 2016 is unlikely to register as one of Schmid’s most memorable preseasons.

“The ones that stand out are the ones when you travel, when you go across great distances,” Schmid said.

The veteran coach has gone to Chile with the Los Angeles Galaxy and England with the Columbus Crew. He remembers when a rare winter storm caught L.A. by surprise during a trip to the French Riviera.

“Andi Herzog turns and says, ‘Well I could have stayed in Austria if I wanted to train in snow,’ ” Schmid recalls.

“But those trips come at the expense of a lot of travel and a lot of tired bodies. There are better options in the states now. One of the benefits of going overseas in the old days was to get better competition. It was hard to go someplace and find competition.”

The preseason checklist

Schmid defines his main goals of the preseason as follows: No. 1, getting his players in shape and achieving a base level of fitness ahead of next month’s season opener.

“Once you’re into your season, you’re going from game to game to game,” Schmid said. “It’s very difficult to catch that time again. If you watch some guys that miss out on that, it takes them a while to catch up (see: Osvaldo Alonso’s 2015), or almost you have to say, ‘The next two weeks, you’re not going to play.’ ”

Goal No. 2, and a particular focus on the Tucson and Southern California portions of the preseason, is establishing relationships and locker-room camaraderie.

“During the season, we let them pick who they room with, and a lot of that gets established in the preseason,” Schmid said. “ … It’s guys with similar interests. The guys with wives and kids seem to hang together, and the guys that are single usually hang out together.”

Goal No. 3 has been mostly on the backburner to this point in the preseason: The strategy and tactics that will define Seattle’s shift to a 4-3-3 formation.

“Obviously the soccer is important, too, getting your tactics right and all that,” Schmid said. “But the fitness and the off the field stuff is equally important.”

Sounders make three cuts

Seattle cut left back Anthony Wallace, winger Ben Speas and midfielder Sergio Mota, general manager Garth Lagerwey announced. Mota spent 2015 with S2 but has a contract offer in his native Brazil.

“We’ve said all along that there’s not a lot of open spots on the team,” Lagerwey said. “ … Depending on whether or not we go with five or six (center backs) impacts on how many midfielders we keep and how many forwards we keep.”

As Lagerwey hinted, the competition for roster spots is most heated in central defense. Panamanian international Roberto Chen, veteran Zach Scott and youngsters Jimmy Ockford, Damion Lowe and Tony Alfaro are fighting for backup roles behind Chad Marshall, Brad Evans and injured Roman Torres.

“We’re narrowing in, and I’d say there’s only two or three decisions left to be made over the next couple of weeks,” Lagerwey said.