With my contract running out yesterday, I find myself momentarily unemployed. Taking this opportunity, I headed down to Tukwila to check out the first practice of the Brian Schmetzer era (for these purposes we'll not count the one that came shortly after Sigi Schmid was relieved of his duties).
First off, it was nice to see that training had a great pace to it. There is a skill in being able to get the most from your players in a relatively short practice, and I saw very little wasted time even with the hot temperature. People knew where to be, the staff was organized and quick, and there wasn't down time. Players were also focused, and while there were smiles and conversations, it definitely was business time while I was observing. People played very hard and there were a few knocks and even a slide or two as this was a high energy, high effort practice. Players weren't afraid to call out each other and there was zero superstar treatment, with no one being above reproach that I found refreshing. Staff didn't over manage the players and there was great competitive flow to the scrimmages.
More Nicolas Lodeiro
More Nicolas Lodeiro
I was obviously curious to see Nicolas Lodeiro in person and he didn't disappoint in the least. A stocky midfielder who looks sturdy enough to take some MLS knocks, Nico is VERY active, with constant movement on both sides of the ball. He is definitely left foot dominant, and gravitates that direction a bit, yet still sees the entire field excellently. He looked completely fit and ready to play immediately, as evidenced by his huge midfield range and effort in all drills while never looking gassed. He is ALWAYS searching to move the ball forward, and it will take players time to adjust to the number of through balls he was putting into them. This is an attack-minded midfielder who has the skill to keep the ball instead of needing to drop the ball to players behind him constantly. Jordan Morris is going to have a field day with the service today's practice promises. Given a window to shoot, his only attempt was a blistering rocket upper v that the keeper had zero chance to save. This was a confident take near post he performed almost nonchalantly; this guy oozes quality.
I was especially impressed at halftime of a split-squad scrimmage to see him off speaking with another player. Being new I would have assumed one of the Spanish speakers or older players but instead I was really surprised to see Lodeiro actively working with one Oalex Anderson. They spent the entire break talking and not only that, when play resumed Nico instantly looked and found Anderson up the wing. It is simply fantastic to see a new player working with the youngest guy on the field in his very first practice. It is very inspiring to see that sort of leadership and team integration from a superstar. Even though it would be easy to really lean on Flaco since they are friends being the new guy, I saw Nico speaking to many others and he really lit up when talking to Alonso about something, with both sharing huge smiles near practice conclusion.
Alvaro Fernandez was there and also looked fit and active. His skill set is so smooth, with clean touches and intelligent movement. He really looked good and has a calm play style even when working hard physically that fit in well with the others. I find it really hard to believe that he isn't going to get a lot of minutes with this team, he looked to be one of the strongest players on the field in his brief scrimmaging. I think he might surprise a lot of fans.
It was notable to me to see when the teams took their break from full squad scrimmage Andreas Ivanschitz was called out specifically to "get his team together and organize stuff" and he was acting as essentially the captain and leader of his group.
Valdez worked really hard in practice but doesn't seem to have the pace to link with the through balls put to him. He was repeatedly frustrated with his own play and was stuffed by Zach Scott on a clear 1v1 chance when he simply didn't have the pace to beat the defender. With a short field, holdup play and aerial prowess isn't valued as much and this made for a bit of a struggle for the DP.
Cristian Roldan was almost exclusively on the wing, playing right back in short-sided games and wing hybrid on the longer field. His touch improves daily.
Roman Torres was training and looks huge and awesome. It's only a matter of time to get full game fitness from what I saw.
I had a ton of fun watching these players and getting an idea of how they plan to move forward post Sigi Schmid. There was no hanging of heads, instead this practice reminded me of a preseason practice where everyone is fighting for their jobs. The calm intensity and desire was really contrary to a team in the bottom of the standings, and that was really nice to see.