Today's practice was at the Starfire Stadium. While this might seem like it has to do with facing the Portland Timbers and their smaller pitch, it actually had to do with the Sounders FC Youth Cup tournament. Sigi Schmid had the team working on small field/small side drills focusing on technical play, while a small group broke off to work on set-play service. They focused on penalties, close free kicks with a fake wall and free kicks from distance as well. Coach Schmid was not willing to reveal which of those players is on his list to take the next penalty opportunity.
Oddly, well after practice, Sigi said that Roger Levesque will be the starting against Portand. While on KJR-AM Seattle he indicated that the battle to be the strike partner has been tight, recent form has him pulling towards Portland's version of Darth Vader.
In case you missed it yesterday it should be noted that O'Brian White is practicing like any other soon to return player. He's participated in drills and Schmid noted;
"This was the week that we wanted to put him into training full-out. I think Sunday is probably a little early for him still but hopefully by the time we run into Colorado he might be able to come off the bench. We will just have to see how he does this week and the beginning part of next week."
That didn't change today. I would expect a 45 minute run against Manchester United in the friendly. It would be an opportunity to get him playing time in a good training environment.
James Riley chatted about set-play defense, offense, playing at Portland and showing up on Taylor Twellman's #MLSAllStar XI, which reads like a loyalty XI. The two played together for three years and Riley notes that he learned quite a bit from one of MLS' best forwards in history, and it clear why Riley has a strong connection with him.
Riley: For sure, they are definitely a good set-piece team. They like to put a lot of bodies in front of goal. They have Jack Jewsbury who serves a great ball. He's been very consistent this year. So I'm sure we'll watch a lot of their set-pieces on film to analyze those angles, those different positions and where they like to serve the ball a bit more. At the same time we just want to keep the line as high as possible to give Kasey enough room to come out if needed.
We don't want to get pushed too deep. I think that's what happened on their goal here. We think we got dropped back too deep before the ball was served. He had a fantastic header. We want to be as high as possible. We know set-pieces can turn the tide of a derby game. It is going to be a battle, so set-pieces are going to be critical offensively and defensively.
SaH: One of the areas where where goals have come against Seattle this year has been on the counter. As one of the faster defensive players that's kind of an area where you, Ozzie, tend to be the men that have to stop those. How do you see that fitting in against the Timbers?
Riley: Definitely, they have some speed up front and we have to respect that. The easiest way to break up a counter is to play preventative. Even as we have possession and get forward we have to make sure we have guys in the right spots in case there is a breakdown we have the numbers to defend that. It is going to be about being smart and taking chances. It is on us to do that, but not over-exerting ourselves when not needed.
SaH: Communication level between yourself, Alonso, Wahl or Leo, which who gets more forward...
Riley: Right, and also when we turn it over, putting that immediate pressure on the ball to give guys that chance to recover. Those are critical.
SaH: Their attacking mids are younger guys, really speed - Chara, Nagbe. Does it excite you to get that kind of test?
Riley: Every time you want to step on the field and have a quality match. No bigger stage than this weekend at Portland and on national television. This is one of the biggest rivalries in American soccer; deeply rooted in history. We'll get to see another side of that going down to Portland. They have some young guns that are doing very well. We know that they are struggling a bit right now, but we know that their focus is going to be to try and beat Seattle. We will go in with that same mentality. It is a huge game.
SaH: You have 500+ traveling fans that are going to be down there, an ESPN game, you have fans scattered around the country with your past experiences - being on the big ESPN and the featured game how does that feel for the level of soccer compared to your time in the League?
Riley: Tremendous for sure. I have a lot of friends and family around the country who are able to watch these wonderful games. I got several, several text messages even from the Monday night game July 4th that people have watched. There's no bigger stage for yourself with two quality teams battling with deeply rooted, historical teams in American soccer battling on national television. It can't get better than that.
SaH: Taylor Twellman mentioned you in an All Star Best XI ... [interrupts]
Riley: Great honor. He's one of the best players I've played with all time. I played with him three years and when he was fit and healthy he was unbelievable. Not only in games, but in training sessions. They were unbelievable. If you weren't on your toes he would let you know about it.
I think his approach and his love for the game and the fact that he was able to take it seriously when it needs to be, and he's also a guy that loves to have fun off the field. I have deep-deep respect for him. He's a quality-quality player and it is unfortunate what happened to him when his career got cut short. But he's doing well for himself and he's a great guy.