Sounders look settled as 2014 season nears
After a difficult end to the 2013 season, Sigi Schmid’s new look Sounders appear ready for the new campaign to get started.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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RENTON — A little under a month remains before the start of the MLS season, which kicks off March 8 with a nationally-televised home game between Sounders FC and defending champion Sporting Kansas City.
At this point last year, Seattle was far from a finished product.
Forward and central defender were glaring needs after Fredy Montero went on loan in Colombia and Patrick Ianni broke his foot early in preseason. Elsewhere, one designated player (Christian Tiffert) was mysteriously absent from the team and an exhaustive process to sign another DP (Obafemi Martins) hadn’t even begun.
And who could forget the day Shalrie Joseph, who was under contract with another MLS team, just showed up to practice one day?
Consider the Sounders exponentially more settled heading into the 2014 campaign.
The team, after going 3-0-1 in preseason exhibitions in Arizona, resumed practice Wednesday at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center with very few questions left to be addressed.
There are no obvious positions of need — outside of some midfield depth, perhaps — and the return of Brad Evans and DeAndre Yedlin from duty with the U.S. national team has the group nearly at full strength. Injuries, so far, haven’t been a significant issue either.
Only one prospective starter isn’t around: Clint Dempsey, who is finishing up the final weeks of his loan with Fulham of the English Premier League.
While there is a reassuring sense of stability at the top of the roster, competition for the final few spots is “going to be tight,” according to coach Sigi Schmid.
“There are going to be guys where we either have to find a creative solution (to get them signed) or some guys are going to be disappointed at the end decision, but that just makes us a better team,” he said.
The urgency was clear to Schmid when he dropped a player down into the “third string” of sorts during Wednesday drills: “All of a sudden his game really picked up as he went to that group, so I think everybody knows they’re in for a battle.”
The Sounders have made a first round of training-camp cuts as draft pick Stefano Rijssel and trialists Dzenan Catic, Tarek Morad and Long Tan are no longer with the group. Jason Morrison, also on tryout, was injured in Arizona, and Schmid had indicated he might join again when healthy.
There were a couple new faces with the team Wednesday: Omar Browne, a 19-year-old forward from Panama, and MLS veteran Danny O’Rourke, a 30-year-old defender who played for Schmid in Columbus in 2007-08.
• Dempsey was inactive in Fulham’s 3-2 loss to Liverpool on Wednesday, marking the second game in a row he hasn’t even been in uniform. So with one game and more than two weeks remaining on the loan, might it be time to end the deal early? Schmid said after practice that the team hadn’t discussed it.
• New addition Marco Pappa has been assigned the No. 10 jersey, the traditional number of a team’s top playmaker and one worn previously here by DPs Mauro Rosales and Freddie Ljungberg. “Pressure, eh?” Pappa joked. “Normally I wear No. 16, but (David) Estrada is wearing it now.”
• All of Sounders FC’s games in 2014 will be broadcast in Spanish by the ESPN Deportes Seattle Radio Group, which has stations in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia. The partnership includes half-hour pregame and postgame shows.
• Reign FC has signed first-round draft pick Amanda Frisbie, a defender from the University of Portland, to a one-year deal with a club option for 2015.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184
On Twitter @joshuamayers