Sounders FC reports to training camp this morning with a roster that includes every player who started at Houston in the final game of the 2009 season.
Kasey Keller, James Riley, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez, Osvaldo Alonso, Nate Jaqua, Steve Zakuani and Fredy Montero all are expected to hit the pitch at Starfire Sports Complex this morning.
Brad Evans might be a little late due to duty with the U.S. national team, and Tyrone Marshall leaves Wednesday for duty with the Jamaican national team.
The club seems unsure of Freddie Ljungberg’s immediate plans, but he remains under contract with the club.
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In fact, forward/midfielder Sebastien Le Toux is the only Sounder who has left the club since that finale in Houston. He was taken by the Philadelphia Union in the expansion draft.
But all those other familiar faces don’t return by accident.
“Continuity is something that I think is very important in this league,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “When you look at the good run that New England had, when you look at the good run that Houston’s having, you look at the run right now that they’re starting to have in Columbus, there’s some continuity there. Continuity doesn’t mean 11-for-11, but there’s probably a continuity factor of six to eight guys that are there all the time. That’s what we’re looking to establish.”
Schmid believes his defending U.S. Open Cup champions merit another chance to make up the small margins that separated them from two other major trophies: a 12-7-11 record that left them use two points short of the Supporters Shield, and that added-time loss in Houston that left them two wins from the MLS Cup final.
“I think the core that we have and the youth that we have within that core is pretty good,” Schmid said. “There’s no reason to tear it apart. We’re always trying to improve it, and we always want to make it better. We’re hoping the draft choices come in and lend some competition and make us better.”
For now, the most notable new Sounders are the three SuperDraft selections from last week: forward/midfielder David Estrada of UCLA, the 11th overall pick; midfielder/forward Mike Seamon of Villanova, the 27th selection; and defender/midfielder Jamel Wallace of San Diego State, the 59th player taken.
Beyond them, Schmid also believes this could be the season when second-year players such as Michel Fucito, a 2009 draft pick out of Harvard, or Lamar Neagel, a free agent from Federal Way and UNLV, move from practice players to game contributors.
And there also could be higher-profile signings ahead as the Sounders’ preseason training shifts from Tukwila and Renton to Arizona and finally to Spain.
“A lot of times when you go to Europe with a team, that becomes a convenient time to maybe look at a player or two that you can bring into camp pretty efficiently and get a look,” Schmid said. “We haven’t closed a blind eye to looking at other players. But on the same token, we want to make improvements to our team and not make lateral moves.”
With the season opener exactly two months away – March 25 vs. expansion Philadelphia at Qwest Field – Schmid plans to ease his players back lightly.
“There are a lot of teams that come in and right away they test the first day and they get into double-days in the first few days,” he said. “I’m not a coach that believes in that. I like my team to come in and we’ve got a week where we can play some soccer and we’re going to get some of our testing done in the middle of the week – on the Wednesday and Thursday – but the main thing is to get everybody back into the rhythm of getting out there and knocking the ball around.”
Looming ominously over these plans is the end of Major League Soccer’s collective bargaining agreement with its players. That agreement expires Jan. 31.
No one yet knows if an agreement can be reached before then or what happens if one isn’t.
However, the international players union has warned its members to be ready for a lockout.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808
DATES TO KICK AROUND
Key dates for the 2010 Sounders FC season:
Today through Friday: Sounders begin first phase of training in Tukwila and Renton.
Jan. 31: MLS collective bargaining agreement with players expires.
Feb. 3-11: Second phase of Sounders training in Casa Grande, Ariz.
First week of February: Full MLS schedule released. Every team will play each of the other 15 teams home-and-away in a balanced, 30-game regular season.
Feb. 15-26: Sounders train and compete in La Manga, Spain.
March 1: Roster and salary-compliance deadline (20 senior, 4 developmental players).
March 25: Season begins with expansion Philadelphia at Seattle (6:30 p.m., ESPN2).
June 11-26: MLS begins two-week break for start of World Cup play.
TBD (late July/early August): MLS All-Star Game at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
July 27: CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round, including MLS’ Sounders FC and Los Angeles Galaxy (minimum one home and one road game each).
Oct. 24: MLS regular season ends.
Oct. 28-30: MLS playoffs begin.
Nov. 21: 2010 MLS Cup (neutral site TBD).
Don Ruiz, staff writer