Sounders coach Sigi Schmid gave an update from Arizona today, with some interesting personnel news.
The full transcript is below the jump, but here are the basics:
* Cordell Cato, who was signed before last season, likely is not returning to the team.
* Defender Adam Johansson will remain with the Sweden national team through next week. And although U.S. Soccer has not officially announced that Sounders forward Eddie Johnson and midfielder/defender Brad Evans are staying with the team, Schmid says he doesn’t expect them back in Arizona anytime soon.
* Canadian national team defender Mason Trafford is working primarily as a central defender with the Sounders this week in Arizona.
* First-round SuperDraft pick Eriq Zavaleta, who has been playing central defense, will get his first work at forward during a scrimmage on Saturday.
* In turns of fitness, Schmid says this team is equal of ahead of where it was last season. He cited Mauro Rosales and Jhnon Kennedy Hurtado as players who came in ahead of last season’s fitness levels.
* No permanent captain has been named. Schmid took a the-more-the-better attitude toward player leadership, citing Rosales, Michael Gspurning and Osvaldo Alonso as veterans taking leadership roles.
* Schmid says the Sounders’ friendly against Portland on Tuesday will be used primarily to give a game-conditions test to players trying to stick with the club. Schmid says later friendlies will be used to get regular-season preparation for the regulars.
On the Arizona camp so far: “Camp’s going well. We’ve been happy with what we’ve been able to do fitness-wise and the strides that we’re making that way. We eased off a little bit today: had our annual soccer-tennis tournament down here, so that’s always fun and a little bit of an easier day for them. They have the afternoon off.
On Canadian defender Mason Trafford, who joined the team in Arizona: Mason has done well. We’ve been playing him primarily as a center back so far. We’ll look at him a little bit as an outside back, as well, and as a center back. But he’s been here for a few days, we’ve played once where we played 11v11. Tomorrow afternoon we’re going to play 11v11 again, so that will tell us a little bit more. But he’s done well and fit in well.”
On why Cordell Cato isn’t in camp: “Not quite sure with Cordell. I think he’s probably looking at some options elsewhere. But there are certain things that I’m not quite sure. Chris Henderson is probably more up to date on what’s happening there. But Cordell and I had a discussion at the end of the season — as we had meetings with all our players — so he knew what his situation was. The opportunity to come back and join us in camp was there. He didn’t really communicate in the period of time he was off and then communicated once we had started camp, saying he would like to come in at that stage. We’d already made a couple of decisions — and obviously made the decision to trade for Lamar Neagle — so that impacted our abilities to possibly bring him back in. So right now it’s a situation where we’re not planning to bring him back in, but I don’t know exactly where all the formalities lie at this moment.”
On goals for the Timbers friendly on Tuesday: “It’s just a chance to run our guys out there and see where we’re at, see where we’re at fitness-wise a little bit, and see where we’re at in terms of our cohesion. We’ve got a lot of guys right now — Steve Zakuani being one of them, Duran coming off a knee injury, Sodade as well coming off a knee injury – we’ve got a number of guys who really aren’t used to the grind of double days, because it’s been a long time since they’ve been used to that. So we’ve been backing them off a little bit, so the game against Portland gives us an opportunity to see some of those guys — with the exception of Duran – to see them play, see where they’re at, because they’re training rhythm is a little different than the others. Also see where we’re at as a team, maybe look at a couple options up front and continue to look at some of the trialists that we have in camp and see how they’re doing. There are probably going to be quite a few guys in that game who maybe we’re pretty sure about that are going to be on our team that we might not play in the Portland game just to make sure we get a good final look and are able to make our decisions on the other players. The Tucson part of our preseason is really where we’re going to try and get that group that’ll play in the opening part of our season, get that group together, get that understanding down.”
Comparison to other preseasons: “They’re all different. They’re all comparable. I know that seems like a strange answer. They’re different because it’s always a slightly different group, different mood, but I’ve been very happy with the mood of the group. The group has worked very hard in training. There’s a good vibe in the camp. There’s good camaraderie in the camp, as well. Fitness-wise, I think we’re equal or ahead of where we were last year at this time. A lot of it is because guys came in fairly good, but also we’ve altered a little bit how we’re training and we’re really working on some guys who we felt had some fitness deficits, to make sure that they bring up those deficits without putting the pressure of playing a lot of soccer on them right now. So I think that’s starting to pay dividends for us. Overall, fitness-wise I’m pleased where we’re at and I’m pleased with the mood of camp.”
On Ianni’s injury creating chance for others to play and be seen: “Well, obviously we’re looking right now in that position, as well, and looking at what are the abilities of our young guys. What’s the ability of Zavaleta? We’ve played him primarily as a defender so far; although in the scrimmage tomorrow we’ll probably play him up front for a change of pace, just to take one quick look there. But it gives us an opportunity to look at the young guys. But we’ve also brought in some players who are more veteran at the center back position to see if there’s somebody that we could add, maybe who’s been around the league or has some experience, that’ll fit into our salary cap and that will work for us. So we’re looking at both options right now.”
On arrivals of Will Bates, Kevin Durr or Adam Johansson: “Bates is coming in tomorrow. So he went through his clean-up surgery on his knee, which went well and was successful. Our doctor — Dr. Morris — met with his doctor and Will is going to bring information with him that our doctor wants to see. He’s still a ways away from playing, meaning at least two weeks away from really getting on to the field. We understand that, but we’re willing to give him that time, so that’s good. Durr will probably join us in Tucson at some point. And Adam Johansson has been called in by Sweden for their Feb. 6 game against Argentina, so he’s staying with the Swedish national team through that game. So he’ll be joining us, as well, in Seattle before we go to Tucson.”
On Johnson-Evans in USA-Canada match: “I thought both Eddie and Brad did well. The team had obviously gone through a very strenuous three-week training camp, and you could see it in their legs and their play. They were a little bit heavy-legged. It felt maybe a little bit slow, a little bit off, in terms of their sharpness and quickness. I thought Eddie did a reasonable job up front; his holdup play was good. But he, like others, nobody was really sharp and decisive. I though was Evans was able to show his versatility. Don’t know because I don’t think U.S. Soccer has announced anything on their final decision. The only thing I can tell you is Eddie and Brad are not here right now, and we don’t expect them in the next few days.”
On options at forward: “I think we have options from the returning players. Obviously, David Estrada and Sammy Ochoa are the ones who were with us last year, probably more prominent. The younger players that we’ve got: Bates isn’t quite ready yet, Sodade is coming back from his ACL surgery; he’s making good strides. There are guys we’ve drafted — Jennings Rex and so forth. Travis Bowen, who’s in camp with us, he’s another forward. So we’re looking at different options. We haven’t really looked at some of our other internal options. And we’re still looking at possible DP options up there, as well. So, we haven’t stopped searching for that. We feel in the near term that we have enough quality to get by in that position, but there are certainly a lot of guys who have opportunities to show for yourself and opportunities to earn playing time.”
On any standouts in terms of fitness: “I think there are guys who’ve come in and have been a lot sharper. I think Mauro Rosales came in sharper than he came in at the beginning of last season, which I think is a very good thing for Mauro and a good thing for our team. I think Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is certainly fitter than he was last year at this same stage and he’s working very hard at that aspect of it, as well. The usual suspects came in fairly fit there, but it’s something that we’ll continue to grow and continue to improve upon. But without getting into more individuals, I’m pleased with the overall level of where we’re at.”
On leadership and naming a captain: “The more leaders we have, the better it is for us. Obviously some prominent people aren’t here right now, like Brad Evans and some of the others that are missing right now. But Mauro is certainly an important part of that leadership group. Michael Gspurning certainly in his second year has more of a role there. He’s no longer the new guy. The guys know what he’s all about. Ozzie always brings his daily work ethic to everything in training, so he’s an important cog of that. So I feel pretty good about where we’re at in terms of leadership that way. And, as always, for me the most important thing is now when we get into games, who is going to grab a hold of wheel when games are tight, and who is going to steady the ship at the right times? That’s the real leadership that has to emerge. It’s not so important who’s wearing the armband. It’s not so important who’s going up for the coin flip. What’s important is the guy who can right the ship in the middle of the game.”
On leadership from younger Sounder: “There’s lot of guys. (Here he cited Rose and Estrada, but the rest got lost in phone garble.)
On the implication of MLS players leaving for Europe: “By numbers, this might be as many sales as MLS has had in a preseason period. So me personally, I think that might be a good thing. This might be the turning point of acceptance and recognition for American soccer. There’s been the isolated occurrences that have happened in the past, whether it was the Clint Dempseys or the Jozy Altidores or whatever. But with the number of players now, with Kamara and Shea and Najar as an example, with the numbers of players there, maybe we’re in a situation now where the recognition given to the football in our league has increased from the European teams. So that’s a good thing. The bad thing is that means they’re going to pluck a little more, especially if these guys can be successful. But I really think it’s going to now come down to how Najar does, how Brek Shea does and how Kei Kamara does. If they all go over there, and two of the three are successful, it bodes well for our league. If three out of three fall on their face, then it might set us back a little bit. If all three are successful it’s a tremendous boon. But our guys are always looking for those opportunities, as well. I think every player wants to play at as high a level as possible. It’s just like the guy who’s playing basketball in Spain for Barcelona. He wants to play in the NBA for the Knicks or for the Lakers or for maybe the Supersonics. It’s something that you always strive for as a player. We’ve got guys who certainly strive for that same thing.”
On MLS without Beckham: “I think there are still some pretty popular names and players. Thierry Henry, he’s certainly the biggest name now associated with our league. Obviously Robbie Keane was very dangerous and very effective last year and is a good name as well. I think it’s less important now than it was five, six years ago, when David got here, where he gave the league a push, and a real recognition factor. He’s still a recognizable name and he still helps our league in terms of exposure. The league now can also bank on the fact that, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the league where David Beckham played in.’ So there’s an awareness of the league, there’s a recognition factor now that has come to the league because of David’s time here, and our performance now and the ability of our players has to sustain it from here.”