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Originally published Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 4:01 PM

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Short-handed Sounders drop exhibition opener to Timbers, 1-0

Sounders FC, playing without several sick players, lost to Portland 1-0 in a match played in Tucson, Ariz.

Special to The Seattle Times

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TUCSON, Ariz. — All things considered, getting out of its MLS preseason opener with a 1-0 loss Tuesday without any more misfortune was just fine with Sounders FC.

First there was the food poisoning and flu-like symptoms that affected at least eight players. Then what should have been a one-hour bus ride from Casa Grande to Kino Sports Complex south of Tucson took more than two hours because of a freeway accident that stalled traffic.

The short-handed Sounders were forced to use players at positions some are not accustomed to just to make it through the match, and still the loss to the rival Portland Timbers was ever so close to being a draw.

Trialist Mikael Silvestre knocked home the game's only goal in the 61st minute after two near-miraculous stops, and the Timbers made it stand. Silvestre powered the ball through a crowd after Sounders goalkeeper Josh Ford made a save and defender DeAndre Yedlin cleared another shot attempt off the line.

On top of the players feeling ill, the Sounders were without three major options at forward, a position that is a major point of emphasis this preseason, due to international call-ups. With Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans and Mario Martinez gone to fulfill national-team obligations, the Sounders started the match with Sammy Ochoa and David Estrada up top. The two played the first 45 minutes — Estrada impressing with a couple of bursts up the right side and toward the box with the ball — then were subbed out for youngsters Travis Bowen and Babayele Sodade. Estrada had to come back in the second half at midfielder for a time because of Seattle's lack of depth.

"First half ... we gave up too much. They had a couple of chances, but I thought we had a couple of chances at their end of the field," Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. "Second half, we had to play more of the trialists and a couple of the younger guys. A guy like (rookie defender) Dylan Remick has never played central midfield. We've got him playing central midfield. Estrada, who's been sick and really shouldn't have been playing more than 45, we had to throw him back out there. We had guys dying and we still almost equalized at the end. So from that standpoint, I'm very happy."

Schmid had hoped not to play anyone out of position but was forced to. The Timbers looked like the more cohesive unit, having already played two matches.

Fitness, and looking at players at center back, are the Sounders' most pressing priorities, Schmid said. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and French trialist Djimi Traore started at central defender, then gave way to trialists Shavar Thomas and Leo Lelis in the second half. The Timbers tested Thomas and Lelis often.

The Sounders' goalkeepers, Marcus Hahnemann and Ford, were sharp, and Mauro Rosales looked quick on and off the ball.

Midfielder Steve Zakuani got in 45 minutes. He's hoping for a full season after spending 2012 dealing with a long-term leg injury.

"Just want to see where you're at so you can see where you have to go," Zakuani said. "We came in here expecting them to be a bit more sharp ... we're happy with the effort we put in. The fitness side of it was good, but the football side, we have a month to get that right."

The Sounders head back to the Northwest for a week before returning to Tucson for preseason matches in the Desert Diamond Cup.

"It's a long season, and we have many games ahead," Rosales said. "We need to build our fitness first and then our technique. Our soccer is going to come with the fitness. For 45 minutes it was good. I'm happy what the team showed with the new players."

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