Another beautiful morning greeted me as I watched the Sounders practice Thursday at Starfire Sports in Tukwila.
The team worked on mainly full-sided scrimmaging games, with the first being a short field drill with two small goals for each team and a focus on quick passing and movement. The ball traveled around the field VERY quickly, and players were training especially hard. Coach Brian Schmetzer seems very fond of active, intensive burst training with short breaks. This style matched the players’ attitudes which made for a fast-paced practice and little wasted time. Players kept the ball moving and on the ground to feet.
The second drill was really unique to me. It was a full field, full-sided scrimmage, but with Nico Lodeiro as a full time offense player. I don’t know whether the goal was to get everyone used to his movement or him used to everyone else or what, but it was fascinating to watch this odd setup. Lodeiro transitions so quickly that the game didn’t miss a beat when possession changed between teams. This drill really showed off Lodeiro’s endurance, and Nico was involved in about 80% of the play for both teams. Both team’s attack ran through him for a touch or a give and go. He was able to connect with teammates but also took his fair share of shots, many of which went harmlessly over. Just when I was about to write off his finishing, Valdez put a ball off the post (go figure) and the deflection came out to Nico who nonchalantly full volleyed it so hard into the goal it stretched the net. Also impressive in this drill was Alvaro Fernandez, who overlapped with surprising pace and got in some very nice crosses from the right wing. He looked hungry and active while keeping width.
For those of us tracking the potential return of Roman Torres, he practiced full and looked great. He is so big and yet has quick and soft feet that belie his size. He was paired with Chad Marshall on one team, with Evans/Scott on the opposing team if you want to infer anything from that. Brad was, as usual, being vocal, organizing his team and playing well, notably stuffing Dempsey 1v1. Other than that instance, the Dempsey/Morris connection was very strong and they seemed to be in tune. Morris was exuding confidence and "trying shit".
Specific player notes: Friberg was fully active, showing no signs of the ankle injury that previously slowed him, and he looked ready to offer coach Schmetzer another midfield option. Alfaro, Fisher, and Darwin Jones were all working with the S2/academy guys on field 2 and not with the first team. It is midweek, but this is perhaps an indication that Mears, Scott, and Anderson have not been passed on any preliminary depth charts.
Aaron Kovar always has a ball at his feet. He spent the entire practice kicking around with a sling on, constantly juggling or finding someone to pass the ball to. I talked to him briefly and he said the injury should only be a six-week thing, and he was confident he’ll be back soon, which is good news for the young player. Even though he was hurt, Kovar was one of the last people off the field, along with Alfaro, Frei, Morris, and Roldan.
Speaking of Alfaro, he spent a while after most everyone had left to work with coach Djimi Traore to clear diagonal long balls to Frei.
I spoke to goalkeeper coach Tom Dutra about how the players and coaches felt about the last few weeks. He’s really excited about how hard everyone is training. He said the attitude of the players is very competitive, and there’s resilience as a team to push forward through the adversity. He was extremely impressed with the mental focus of the team in practice and said the coaches and players were all feeding off this energy. The attitude at practice was one of quiet determination and hungry desire. I saw this myself as the final drill of the day was a split with attackers taking a quick touch around traffic and having a shot on goal. Miller was especially impressive with his shot stopping. Players took the drills seriously, often forcing two and three saves per attempt as the goalies threw themselves around to block attempts.
I really enjoy going out and seeing the practices, it gives me an idea if what I am inferring from my ratings posts makes sense. I don’t see a broken team in practice, I see a lot of very good players really pushing each other, and I think the last result was evidence that this attitude is catching. This team practiced like a team that could come back from an early deficit. I fully expect big things from the Sounders if they continue to play like they have been practicing.