After missing yesterday’s practice due to a scheduling conflict (YachtCon), I was excited to see what I expected was the first full squad practice for the Sounders. That didn’t happen, as there were only about 20 players warming up when I arrived. A few players that will be on the first team roster this year weren’t present or full participants.
Seyi Adekoya, Henry Wingo, and Brian Nana-Sinkham were at the Rookie Symposium. This is where the league helps to acclimate young and new players to life as a professional player in MLS (living on their own, dealing with paychecks, etc).
Harry Shipp and Osvaldo Alonso warmed up with the team and then did side work, both Aaron Kovar and Brad Evans were around but didn’t participate today. Stefan Frei did some sprints and lateral work and looks to be ramping up his rehab.
Carlos Irvin Parra, Jordy Delem, Lorenzo Ramos, and a guy I didn’t recognize were there today and trained in full with this “first” team. Two young players who continue to train with the team are confirmed to be traveling to South Carolina: Sam Rogers and Jake Morris.
Today’s session started with stretching and warm up, and then into the usual keep away and quick touch drills. I got a kick out of Coach Schmetzer saying “youngest in the middle” to start the 5v3 drill, which created a fun middle group of Cristian Roldan, Sam Rogers and Jake Morris. The closest set of keep away was monitored by the vigilant eye of Gonzalo Pinedo, who was barking orders in English and Spanish. He was assertive with regards to positioning. Will Bruin continues to display very soft feet and does surprisingly well in close quarters. Jordan Morris, fresh off his USMNT goal, was also impressive and looks to continue his improvement with tight control. As you might guess, Nicolas Lodeiro pretty much breaks this game; his movement, vision, and touch makes it nearly impossible for a defending team to get possession – once his team got 24 touches before losing the ball.
After the keep-away drills, the majority of the team worked on the far field and were hard to follow, but I did notice Dempsey, Morris, and Bruin working on finishing drills. I can confirm that Morris and Bruin both have left feet.
The practice ended up with a modified ¾ field scrimmage that was 8v8 (plus goalies) with Clint Dempsey as all-time offense. Both teams were very mixed, and guys you might assume would be on the same team (Torres and Marshall for example) were instead split. These teams moved the ball from end to end very quickly. One thing that will need to improve is integrating Nico better. I noticed a couple times where Bruin didn’t make the right run for his Uruguayan teammate. This should be fixable, and it’s likely that Bruin has never played with the vision and touch of a Lodeiro, but there was at least once that I saw a clear through ball that Nico can hit, and Bruin missed the opportunity. He will need to learn that Lodeiro needs about an inch of space to drop a perfect pass through a crowd onto goal, and I’ll be watching this carefully.
Cristian Roldan looked confident in an advanced role, showing off some attacking chops and mixing it up with Roman Torres on multiple occasions. Will Bruin displayed tremendous strength to ride out a shoulder tackle vs Chad Marshall, and not only kept possession but shrugged the veteran defender down to the ground with some great physical play. Joevin Jones hasn’t put a foot wrong all preseason, he doesn’t get beat and is an increasingly devastating attacking option.
The guy that was the star of the drill for me was Gustav Svensson. This was my first time seeing him live, and he looked great in a roving role, first defending, then showing surprising speed to get into an attack. He fit in perfectly on the team, getting touches and knowing when to involve people. There is a lot to like about his skill set. It remains to see how he can fit into a rotational role with the other defensive midfielders, but should he be pressed into service he looks to be a sneaky, strong, under-the-radar pickup for the Sounders.
Clint was great in the finishing drills, showing off his strong off-foot multiple times. His competitive fire is ever-present and seeing him sprint and fight for the ball is great. There were 2 goals scored in the 8v8 and both came from Dempsey. The first was a two-touch left-footed curler to the far post upper 90, reminiscent of one he scored at the last practice I was at. The second involved a ridiculous shot fake and pull back move where Clint dipped his shoulder to get multiple players to slide by, cut the ball back onto his left and buried a shot. He continues to look fantastic in these sessions.