Will Sounders' midfield engine add performance in preseason?

Ronald Martinez

Seattle's midfield is stacked to say the least. There are two DPs, a Best XI player, a fringe USA national, a Honduran international and a strongly adapting draft pick. Let's not forget the two former Battery players out on the wings as well. In 2013 though the midfield will be leaned on more than ever.

In 2012 the midfield scoring fell off. The previous year, Alvaro Fernandez put in 12 goals and assisted on 5 in all competitions. Prior to that in 2010 Zakauni had 11 and 8. Last year the only midfield offensive threat in measurables (goals and assists) was Mauro Rosales. The Seattle Sounders can expect strong assist numbers from the play-making winger, but what they need in light of the loss of Fredy Montero is more power from the stacked midfield.

Designated Player Christian Tiffert will need to be a large part of what pushes the quality midfield even further.

"If you come into the last fourth of the season it is not easy," Tiffert said to gathered media early in training camp about joining the team late in the season. "We did it well, but now it can be better. We need full preparation for the next season and that's my goal - to make it better than the last one. For a European guy, it is not easy to acclimate to the conditions - the traveling, the games, the weather from one city to another. It's not easy for a player from Germany. But me and my family we're happy to be here."

How he integrates with the team will be important. With more time he can use leading passes, throughballs and more accurate crosses as he learns the team. If there is a chance of Tiffert having a breakout season, it will be because of preseason. Osvaldo Alonso feels they are meshing well so far. But real games will be the test. The center of the pitch should be stronger through the year, even though a fringe US National is dropping from it.

On the wings there will be competition for time between Steve Zakuani, Mario Martinez and Lamar Neagle. All evidence in practice is that Zakuani is back to his 2010 form. Maybe more important is the leadership he is exuding. Sigi Schmid is noticing the 24-year-old take more responsibility and showing more maturity. On the ball Steve is showing the same speed burst, a good first touch and the threatening ball strike that made him the club's active leading goal scorer.

Martinez is not yet in camp, but he is with the full Honduras national team and playing frequently. He excels with them in a less-defined role than in Seattle, but has yet to be mentioned as a possible forward (wingers Rosales, Zakuani and Neagle are the most recent short list). Still, he is goal dangerous and after the February 6th qualifier will still have three full weeks in camp. Neagle is the best defender of the multi-year veteran wingers. Despite seven goals in his two active years in MLS, he is not the goal scorer or the assist man. If there can be a wing poacher he would be it. Neagle is also an effort guy, unquestionably.

Youngsters Alex Caskey and Andy Rose both want to push for time in this environment. They know that they will need to add things to their games in order to get time. Caskey wants to add more goals, while Rose looks at some more Evans-esque skills, "being more influential on the field, being a guy that guys are comfortable giving the ball to in tight spots and playing one-two touch and looking forward a bit more." Both provide Sigi with depth that should push the older vets to do just a bit more or lose time.

Then there is Brad Evans himself. He is the second leading active scorer and third on that list for assists. He also has the third most minutes of the active Sounders. His performances and role flexibility are getting him fringe national team consideration (on Sunday the roster for the World Cup Qualifier will be announced). Evans showed that his strong runs can take place centrally or on the wing, his defense adapted well to being an actual defender and he can hit the penalty. His play may be simple, but Evans is good for four and four in any year.

In the end, the determination as to whether the midfield can provide some goalscoring like it did in previous seasons likely comes down to Zakuani and Martinez. But the engine, possibly the assists come down to Tiffert. What can he add to his 2012 game this year?

"I don't want to think about that too much. We have six weeks for preparation for the next season and I think we have a goal for this season. We were close last season, but now this is the past." Tiffert spoke confidently and cautiously. "This is a new season. We have a good team and we do hard work for our goal to become the winners of the Cup."

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