Today was the last practice before the Sounders leave for Charleston, South Carolina and the Carolina Challenge Cup. There was a bit more intensity at this session, and I really think the returning young players helped, as well as knowing that this was some players’ last chance to impress before getting on the plane.
After warm-ups the keep away games were separated into what looked to be age groups. I was intrigued by the group consisting of Seyi Adekoya, Henry Wingo, Tony Alfaro, Sam Rogers, Brian Nana-Sinkam, and Jake “with the good hair” Morris. They played 4v2 and man, the future is bright; the entire group showed skillful touch and movements.
There were two new young players (Georg Armstrong U18s, Dave Olsen of Seattle U), and the mystery of #53 was solved when Sounders officials confirmed that it was former New England Revolution defender Darrius Barnes on trial.
Like I said before, the younger guys brought a lot of energy, and during some competitive drills it was great to see guys like Zach Mathers and Irvin Parra showing the competitive juices of Clint Dempsey or Roman Torres, who were very vocal about winning a speed drill against their younger opponents.
After this the team split into two groups with the far guys working 2v2, 3v3 type attacking drills, while the near group worked on 6v5 drills that involved moving the ball from the keeper out in possession. For the first time this preseason, I got to see Chad Marshall and Roman Torres work in the back, combined with Barnes and Joevin Jones wide. This drill was run by Gonzalo Pineda, and I am immensely impressed by his coaching skill. I cannot overstate how superb he is as a coach. He repeatedly stopped this drill, explaining the tactical reasoning behind specific positioning and decision making, and even demonstrated what he wanted. It was utterly fantastic to watch, and it immediately showed in improved play with players taking up better positioning and having a much easier time moving the ball past midfield. Pineda may end up being one of the best pick-ups of the off season; seeing him out there barking orders in English and Spanish commanding of the drill was very impressive.
After this group switched out to the attacking drill, the next group featured two new center backs and both Sam Rogers and Tony Alfaro looked really good. I am impressed with how calm Rogers is on the ball, never getting rattled by pressure with a confidence that really belies his youth. Alfaro is one of the most improved guys on the team, and he was the standout of the drill, making great decisions and offering up near perfect passing. Not a lot has been said about him this preseason, but he looks MLS ready right now.
The full team scrimmaged on the far field for a while at the end, and it was unfortunately very hard to see. The teams were split into what I would describe as likely starters against second team guys, with Jordy Delem playing defensive midfield and Barnes playing right back. Jordan Morris started as forward with Flaco Fernandez as the left winger. One highlight I did see was that Barnes immediately started the game off by making a long run up the wing and putting in a great cross that eventually was redirected to a Jordan Morris diving header into the top corner of the goal. As expected, this scrimmage was dominated by the first team players, and the constant movement of Lodeiro was noticeable even 60+ yards away.
It was Clint interview day, so there was a significant media presence at Starfire. Normally there are just one or two TV cameras, but all the major local networks were out there to get the rare chance to get Dempsey screen time.
Dempsey discussing things with Jake Morris as they walked down the field was an interesting sight that looked to be prompted by their earlier sprinting competition.
I couldn’t see a lot of the 2v2 and 3v3 drill they did, but I watched Chad Marshall absolutely stone Clint on one sequence. Clint Cruyff turned back and forth 2-3 times trying to get around the giant defender and eventually Marshall blocked a pass attempt making Dempsey look unusually inept. He just dominated Clint on that play.
Of course the very next time they got matched up Dempsey got Marshall leaning, pushed around him and audaciously Rabona’d in a shot, after which he ran up the field with his hands over his head hooting and hollering. You do you, Clint.
Perhaps because Delem was the defensive midfielder in this drill, I noted Clint dropping back deeper to try to facilitate possession. During the scrimmage at the end, he was once absolutely blanketed by Henry Wingo, who forced a drop to the keeper.
And with that the team is off to Charleston. Coach Schmetzer stated that he will have more of a starting lineup feel in the upcoming games, and he wants to work on getting players at full fitness and ready to go. Hopefully this gives us a bit more of an idea of how the first XI will be lining up March 4 in Houston.