Finally, Sounders FC arrives in Argentina
After 14 hours of flying, Sounders FC lands in Buenos Aires, prepares to play five exhibitions.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Seattle Sounders FC's trip to Argentina that began with some 14 hours of flying Tuesday and Wednesday won't be without some bureaucratic business.
The team has five exhibition games tentatively scheduled, four against Argentine First Division clubs. There are practices between those matches, plus meals and more bonding between the players. Executives and coaches have a March 2 deadline imposed by Major League Soccer to be roster and salary-cap compliant, with no more than 20 players on the senior roster and up to four developmental roster players.
Then there is the trip to the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires. Seattle has a group of international players that are allowed to compete in the United States with P-1 athletes' visas, and those players must go to the embassy to get a P-1 stamp on their passports.
Forward Fredy Montero and defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado of Colombia are front and center for the process. Both players signed contracts with Sounders FC contingent on getting their P-1 visas approved and receiving clearance to transfer to the U.S. from the Colombian soccer federation. Montero and Hurtado were teammates with Deportivo Cali of Colombia.
Montero, having joined the team last month, is ahead in his process and is with the team now. Hurtado had yet to even get out of Colombia to join his teammates in Argentina on Wednesday. He's expected Thursday after not being allowed on his original flight because he didn't have information on his return flight from Buenos Aires, be it to Seattle or back to Colombia.
"We've corrected that," Sounders FC general manager Adrian Hanauer said before he left to join the team. "He'll be there."
It's critical to the club to get Montero and Hurtado cleared, as it has become apparent that Montero has the potential to be a major offensive threat and Hurtado is being counted on to help shore up the back line. Hurtado's arrival is that much more important with central defender Taylor Graham expected to miss all of the exhibition games in Argentina because of a foot injury.
Hanauer has taken a team to Argentina before. He took the United Soccer Leagues Sounders there for some games after their final season last year.
"The logistical part is not very difficult," Hanauer said. "The trip itself is somewhat grueling. We know the drill. We have good relationships down there. We know where we're going to get good preseason games."
Coach Sigi Schmid said last week that Buenos Aires is a good place to play games because there are several first- and second-division teams within an hour of where Sounders FC is training.
"What you're really looking for is trying to go to a location where you can pick up quality games without having to do two- or three-hour trips to get to those games," Schmid said.
Sounders FC is 5-1 in exhibition play going into Friday's scheduled match with Estudiantes La Plata at 5 a.m., Seattle time. All of Sounders FC's Argentina matches will be shortened to 70 minutes, with the finale against traditional power River Plate either next Wednesday or Thursday.
Seattle is training at the Argentinos Juniors youth academy grounds. It plays Argentinos Juniors, like Estudiantes and River Plate a first-division team, next Tuesday. The other games are against Velez Sarsfield of the First Division on Monday, and CED, a lower-tier team of local-based free agents, this Saturday.
The Argentine top-flight clubs are expected to field teams made up of both starters and reserves.
Schmid had the team working just hours after arrival in Buenos Aires. The team got to Argentina midday Wednesday after a 10-hour overnight flight from Dallas-Fort Worth, and later Wednesday Schmid put players through a 70-minute practice in 80-plus degree heat.
The emphasis will continue to be on player fitness, Schmid said.
"Defensively down there is a good test, because the Argentinian teams are good possession-oriented teams, but they can also spring people," Schmid said. "It means our defense has to be alert, and we have to do a really good job of shifting. Argentinian center backs are as good as any center backs in the world, so it's a good test for our forwards in terms of how to deal with those kind of players and still be successful. It's just stepping up another level."
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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