When Seattle Sounders FC began training for a new season Saturday, the fan enthusiasm was familiar, but many of the players were not.
“It’s a team that we made changes to in the offseason, and we’re not done yet in terms of all those changes,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think as a result of that, there’s a good spirit. ... They’re excited about the opportunity to play in Seattle.”
Several of the new players seemed especially struck by the scores of supporters who waved flags, chanted and sang while watching the opening workout at Starfire Sports in Tukwila.
“It’s fantastic,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “These fans are everything to this team. This is what makes this team a special team. It’s really nice for them to come out here the first day and support us like this.”
Frei was acquired from Toronto over the offseason and was among several players participating in their first training session with the Sounders. Others were center back Chad Marshall from Columbus and forwards Chad Barrett from New England, Kenny Cooper from FC Dallas and Tristan Bowen from Chivas USA.
“It was exciting to finally get a chance to meet my new teammates,” Bowen said. “I think everyone’s a bit anxious because we’ve been off for quite awhile now. I thought there was a lot of good energy. Guys looked happy to be on the field and meet their new teammates.”
Schmid thought so, too.
“We just wanted the guys to play a little bit so we can establish a little bit where they are fitness-wise,” he said. “We just wanted to let them ... get all their excitement out of their system, as well.”
These Sounders show an especially new look in the middle of their defense, where 2013 starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning and center backs Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni are no longer around.
Schmid said those departures may have been influenced by the Major League Soccer salary cap. But the changes also reflected the club’s desire to improve its defense after a fourth-place finish in the Western Conference and a loss to Portland in the conference semifinals.
“One of our goals was to become a little more athletic, to become a little younger and faster,” Schmid said. “We wanted to get some young center backs in as well because we felt we had a whole group growing old sort of together back there.”
Schmid said there is no presumed starter yet at goalkeeper, where Frei is expected to compete with veteran Marcus Hahnemann. It also seems likely that there will be at least one new starter at center back.
Marshall — who seems in line to earn one of those spots — said the newcomers have time to blend before the regular season starts March 8, when MLS Cup champion Sporting Kansas City visits CenturyLink Field.
“We’ll have plenty of (training friendlies) to build that chemistry,” he said. “And even though I don’t think any of the center backs have really played with one another, you can get an understanding down pretty quickly and be ready to go by the start of the season.”
Midfielder Shalrie Joseph remains on the roster, but he is not in Seattle, and Schmid said he is not in the club’s plans for this season. ... Left back Leo Gonzalez was the only Sounder to have offseason surgery (groin). He is expected to be ready for full participation in about a month, Schmid said. ... Midfielder Brad Evans and right back DeAndre Yedlin are missing the start of camp while away with the U.S. national team. Midfielder Clint Dempsey is halfway through a two-month loan to Fulham of the English Premier League. ... The existing FieldTurf at CenturyLink Field will be retained in 2014, general manager Adrian Hanauer said. ... The Sounders are off Sunday; they return to training Monday.
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