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Originally published January 26, 2013 at 5:29 PM | Page modified January 26, 2013 at 6:08 PM

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Sounders signees DeAndre Yedlin, Eriq Zavaleta face steep learning curves

Zavaleta, who had the third-most goals in college soccer last year, is making the transition from offense to defense.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The two youngest players in Sounders FC's preseason training camp aren't competing for jobs.

DeAndre Yedlin, 19, and Eriq Zavaleta, 20, have already signed contracts this month heading into their rookie years. Both were standout sophomores at college powers Akron and Indiana, respectively, and look to have bright futures in MLS.

But that doesn't mean they don't have learning to do, a point proved in the team's first 11-on-11 scrimmage.

Yedlin, to be fair, had a difficult defensive assignment against dynamic midfielder Steve Zakuani, a fellow Akron product.

"It was a good lesson," coach Sigi Schmid said of the matchup. "It's something that I wanted. Steve's a good-enough player, he's embarrassed a few guys. Early on in the game, Steve ended up getting behind DeAndre, just missed scoring a goal, and got behind him another time. But there were a couple of times where DeAndre stood him up fairly well."

Zavaleta's added challenge as a new pro has been a position change. He starred in college as a forward — his 18 goals were tied for third in the country — but has been playing for the Sounders as a central defender, a position at which Schmid thinks Zavaleta projects best.

In the 11-on-11 scrimmage, Zavaleta had "good moments and bad moments," according to his coach.

"A lot of times when I experiment with players in different positions, I don't give them a lot of instruction," Schmid said. "I throw them back there and I see how much of it is there. If there's nothing there, if you're starting and they only have 10 percent and you're trying to add 90 percent, you're not going to make it. So just throwing him back there, and he hasn't played there in a long time, he's got 70 to 75 percent of what you need back there, and the other 25 percent we can definitely teach."

A learning curve for young players is only natural, Schmid said, comparing it to someone in high school thinking they have everything figured out until they get to college, or a college senior thinking they have everything figured out until they enter the real world.

"It's sort of a reminder," Schmid said, "that, 'I still have things to do. I still have things to improve upon.' "

Ianni on crutches

There was a concerning sight Saturday as defender Patrick Ianni was spotted on crutches. It's unclear when the injury occurred or how severe it is, and the team did not provide an update.

Center back is already an area of need for the Sounders after losing the team's two-time Defender of the Year, Jeff Parke, in an offseason trade with the Philadelphia Union.

Notes

• The Sounders held their annual 30-meter sprint test Saturday. Fastest was non-contract invitee Isaiah Schafer, followed by fellow trialist Ashani Fairclough, midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, Yedlin and draft pick Jennings Rex. Goalkeeper Josh Ford was quickest on the team to 10 meters.

• Seattle won't likely host a Community Shield game this preseason due to conflicts with the Desert Diamond Cup, Feb. 13-23 in Tucson, Ariz. The Sounders are trying to arrange an additional game during the exhibition tournament against a Mexican or Honduran team as CONCACAF Champions League preparation.

• The first cuts of preseason could be made over the weekend before the team resumes training Monday.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com

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