Three weeks from today, Seattle Sounders FC is scheduled to kick off its second Major League Soccer season at Qwest Field.
However, the Sounders already have almost six weeks of training behind them. And, for some, this long run-up takes some getting used to.
“It’s too long,” veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller said Wednesday. “… It’s nice the first couple of weeks because you don’t get killed because you know you have nine weeks to kind of build your fitness levels. But at the same time, I’m just thinking what we’ve just gone through – basically being on the road for four weeks – and now we still have three weeks left before the first game. It seems a pretty extended period.”
The Sounders already have been through a week of local training, fitness work in Arizona, and tournament competition in La Manga, Spain. After a few days off, they returned to Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila on Wednesday to begin their final push.
Not surprisingly, coach Sigi Schmid doesn’t buy into the concept of too much time to prepare.
“I know our opening game is three weeks away, but it’s tomorrow,” Schmid said, citing a philosophy he learned under former U.S. national team coach Bora Milutinovic. “So, every day we work like it’s tomorrow. We want to make sure we’re ready. We want to push our guys now these next games 75 to 90 minutes, make sure they’re ready from a fitness standpoint. And then we want to make sure that we start putting together the combinations we think are possibly going to be on the field that opening game.”
The Sounders will continue training through Friday, then travel to meet the Vancouver Whitecaps at 4 p.m. Saturday. After that, there are training games against the Portland Timbers at 6 p.m. March 11 at Qwest Field and the Colorado Rapids on March 19 in Commerce City, Colo. The regular season begins March 25 against the Philadelphia Union at Qwest Field.
“I understand. That’s the way it is in America,” designated player Freddie Ljungberg said. “… I feel like we have certain aspects of our game that we have to work on. We did it a little bit in Spain, but I hope that the last three weeks are going to be on patterns in the game where if we’ve had a bad game there are certain things we can rely on and it goes on (automatic).”
Teams are continuing to practice under the terms of the old collective bargaining agreement. Despite the lingering uncertainty about on a new CBA, the league has said it will not lock the players out, and the players have so far chosen not to strike.
“The players in the league want the league to continue to grow,” Sounders union representative James Riley said. “I just think that right now we’re on different agendas to have that happen. I think the players have given a lot. … I think the players should have faith in the league, and the league should have faith in the players in cooperation instead of butting heads at the moment.”
Riley and veteran Taylor Graham said the main player issues are freedom of movement, guaranteed contracts and decreased unilateral options for MLS clubs.
“You can see the evolution of where the league was five years ago to where it is now with the franchises coming in,” Graham said. “And our perspective is it’s about time for the training wheels to come off the league.”
Schmid and several players agreed that no labor distractions have been evident on the pitch.
Sounders FC has called a press conference for 10 a.m. today, when the signing of an international player is expected to be announced. … Asked about players who have stepped up their quality of play, Schmid cited Graham, Roger Levesque, Mike Fucito, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans and rookies David Estrada and Michael Seamon. … The club has announced that its opening game and its May 8 home game against the Los Angeles Galaxy are sold out. Fewer than 1,000 single-game tickets remain for all other home matches. Season tickets remain available.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808