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Originally published January 23, 2010 at 7:06 PM | Page modified January 23, 2010 at 7:24 PM

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Success in the second season won't be easy for Sounders FC

Sounders FC seeks to improve on a wildly successful opening act from last year, its first in Major League Soccer.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Key dates

Monday: Training camp opens at Starfire in Tukwila

Feb. 3: Team travels to Casa Grande, Ariz., for more training.

Feb. 11: Arizona training ends.

Feb. 15: Sounders depart for training and tournament in La Manga, Spain.

Feb. 26: Team returns from Spain.

March 25: Sounders FC vs. Philadelphia Union, MLS regular-season opener, Qwest Field.

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A full house every night. A U.S. Open Cup title. A Major League Soccer playoff berth. Marches to the Match. Et cetera, et cetera.

All that in the Sounders FC's inaugural season. The dawn of a new campaign and a new quest for glory and trophies is upon the team and its army of supporters.

As training camp kicks off Monday at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, at least one question comes to mind: How do the Sounders top their first year?

Expectations have been raised. But so has the seating capacity in Qwest Field, from about 29,000 early last season to close to 36,000 for 2010.

"I'm confident that our fans, being what they are, they're going to find a way to top themselves. The atmosphere will be even better," Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said.

As for the product on the field, Schmid said establishing consistency as a perennial championship contender is the goal for this season.

"It's easy to climb up the hill. It's a lot harder to stay at the top," Schmid said. "We want to be there year after year."

An early exit from the playoffs didn't sit well with anyone, and the team is ready to go further this season. All 11 players who started the last playoff game in November at Houston are back, along with all but one top reserve, Sebastien Le Toux.

"The guys got a taste of the playoffs last year," Schmid said. "I'm excited. We know what some of the guys can do. We know how some of the pieces of the puzzle fit together."

Two areas the players were asked to improve on are strength and depth. Seattle was out-physicaled in the playoffs, and the team will have more games to play in 2010 with its qualification for the CONCACAF Champions League tournament and defense of its Open Cup championship.

"We want to improve in every area," general manager Adrian Hanauer said. "We want to improve strength, fitness, technical skills ... if we all do that stuff in a smart way, it leads to more wins."

Players weren't the only ones working on getting better. Assistant coaches spent time with clubs in Europe, observing and taking in how teams operate abroad and bringing lessons learned back with them.

While fans will see where the players are in their development soon, Sounders FC will for sure have a stronger youth development program in 2009. Buoyed by the success of two Washington Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program teams that wore Sounders colors at a regional tournament in Arizona earlier this month, Sounders FC's presence in the soccer community continues to grow.

Sounders FC will field its first academy teams this summer in the under-16 and under-18 classifications, with the idea that the academy will be a training ground for future Sounders.

"The spark hit early last season. The fire was burning," Hanauer said. "We need to continue to stoke the fire. We think we can do that by delivering more on the field and diving deeper in the community."

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

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