RENTON – Sounders FC played most of its 2010 season without midfielder Brad Evans and defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.
However, the club didn’t want to do that again this season and backed that up by protecting both players through the expansion draft, even though both were rehabilitating knee injuries.
Four days into training camp, the Sounders’ faith in each player seems justified. Both are participating in all drills, say they are pain-free and eager to show that the club made the right decision.
“The best thing that I could ask for in that situation was being protected,” Evans said. “So, from my standpoint, that’s something that I have to work extra hard ... showing them that I appreciate what the club has done for me. Obviously, I’m not just going to sit back and watch while somebody takes my spot. It’s just up to me to work.”
Early indications are that no one has taken Evans’ spot. The Sounders concluded their first phase of training camp Friday at the Seahawks’ training facility with 11-on-11 games, and Evans worked with what seemed to be the first team. Hurtado appeared to be on the second team, behind Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni, who each played in his place after he went on the disabled list May 24 with to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Hurtado figures the Sounders’ defensive depth will be only an asset.
“It’s a good thing to have a lot of good players and have depth on the team,” he said, with teammate Taylor Graham translating his Spanish. “Everyone is here supporting each other, and everyone brings different things to the table. It’s always better to have more good players surrounding yourself.”
When healthy, both are accomplished players.
In 2009, Hurtado was an MLS All-Star and a finalist for defensive player of the year.
Over two seasons with the Sounders, Evans has made 41 appearances, including 38 starts. He also has made three appearances with the U.S. national team.
And with training about to shift to Casa Grande, Ariz., for the next two weeks, coach Sigi Schmid said he is willing to adjust the two players’ training schedules with an eye toward the March 15 opener against Los Angeles.
“When we get down to Arizona, doing double days, (Hurtado) probably will do one training with us, and in the other training he’ll do something else,” Schmid said. “Same thing with Brad Evans – all the guys who are sort of easing their way back to it.
“It’s a mistake when you’ve been out that amount of time to say, ‘OK, you’re going to do what everybody else has done,’ and then all of a sudden they break down with something else. So, we’ll ease them back into it.”
The Houston Dynamo has been shifted to the Eastern Conference to accommodate the entry of Portland and Vancouver into the West. The moves give MLS two nine-team conferences for 2011. Each team will play the others home-and-away over a 34-game schedule.
“It makes no difference as to who you play and who you’re playing against,” Schmid said. “Obviously, the standings and how many points you need to get into the playoffs has been different in the last two years for East and West. But I thought it seemed pretty logical as to who to keep there.”
MLS also announced the makeup of its club rosters for the coming season.
Teams will be allowed 30 players, but that total must be reached through a combination of higher-salary players, lower-salary/younger players, a maximum of eight international players, and two home-grown players.
“You have to look at those things,” Schmid said. “It’s not like you’re always saying, ‘OK, these are our best 28 players,’ for example, ‘and so these are the guys we pick.’ (The designations mean some) maybe aren’t the best guys, but they’re guys you think have some talent, have ability to grow and slot into that particular salary situation.”
The team will fly to Arizona on Sunday. Schmid said three to five players could be released before then. ... Judging from practice this week, the Sounders’ first 11 currently seems to be: goalkeeper Kasey Keller; defenders Leo Gonzalez, Patrick Ianni, Jeff Parke and James Riley; midfielders Steve Zakuani, Osvaldo Alonso, Evans and Alvaro Fernandez, and forwards Blaise Nkufo and Fredy Montero.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer