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Sounders preseason notebook: Gang’s back together

Sounders head to Palm Springs with (almost) everyone now in camp.

The Seattle Sounders departed for the final stage of their preseason with just about everyone finally joining training camp.

Up until now, preseason has been almost exclusively about fitness as about half of the Sounders’ projected starters have been away for one reason or another. But with Xavier Arreaga, Jordan Morris, Alex Roldán and Cristian Roldan all back from international duty, and João Paulo’s green card situation resolved, the Sounders can now finally start to work on the more tactical aspects during their week in Palm Springs.

“I’m super excited about this last camp,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters on Tuesday, shortly before boarding a plane for Southern California. “Camp was kinda jumbled because we were missing some important pieces. The physical part has gone according to plan. Some of the tactical stuff is what I’m hoping to cram in before we head to Honduras. We won’t really know how the team looks and jives and gels until we play a real opponent.”

Schmetzer said that one thing they’ll be looking to do is try out different formations during their two scheduled 90-minute scrimmages. In one of the games, Schmetzer said they’ll use a 4-2-3-1. In the other, he said they’d likely use a three-back formation. Schmetzer said he hadn’t yet decided which formation they’ll use during their Concacaf Champions League opener against Motagua on Feb. 17, but suggested they’d likely use both throughout the season.

“There are some tweaks still,” he said. “It might be trial and error. It will give us more flexibility having the players understand two formations.”

One last absence

The only key player who didn’t travel with the team to Southern California is Nouhou, who is expected to meet the team there in the next week, but likely not in time for the game against the LA Galaxy on Thursday. Nouhou has been with Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, helping them to a third-place finish.

Figuring out how Nouhou best fits into the Sounders’ tactical setup will be one of the puzzles Schmetzer must solve.

At least early on, it seems reasonable that Nouhou would play either as a left back in a 4-2-3-1 or as a left centerback in a three-back setup. But Schmetzer thinks Nouhou has the skillset to play centerback in either formation.

“There are some tactical nuances he could figure out,” Schmetzer said.

Health update

While just about everyone is in attendance, the Sounders probably won’t be quite at full-strength when they face Motagua. Josh Atencio, Danny Leyva and Jimmy Medranda have yet to train in full and are unlikely to feature against the Galaxy or Motagua.

The news is a bit better for Nicolás Lodeiro, who is coming back from an injury-shortened 2021 in which he underwent two separate knee surgeries. Lodeiro made his preseason debut last week and will likely play against the Galaxy, but the team is proceeding cautiously.

“He’s champing at the bit,” Schmetzer said about Lodeiro. “He would tell you he’s ready to play 90 minutes. Just because of the injury he sustained and the ramp-up, we’re being a little bit cautious. He’s definitely going to play against the Galaxy and he’ll definitely play against Motagua.”

Travel plans

It wasn’t so long ago that traveling for CCL games was a massive undertaking. For a team like the Sounders, it would often entail a two-legged trip that involved an overnight stay in one spot where they’d train and then flying into the new country the day before the game. If they were lucky, they might be able to schedule a return flight the night after the game but usually had to wait an additional day before coming home.

With the rules around charter flights now significantly loosened, travel is much more straightforward.

The Sounders will spend the next week or so in Palm Springs, then fly directly to Honduras on Feb. 15, train in Tegucigalpa on Feb. 16, play Motagua on Feb. 17 and fly back to Seattle that night.

“It’s really been a blessing traveling with a charter,” Schmetzer said. “It helps the players perform better.”

CCL roster released

Concacaf released the preliminary rosters of eligible players for CCL on Monday. The Sounders only listed 19 of the 27 players they currently have under first-team contracts, but they can make additions to that list up to 44 hours before their matches. While several notable players were left off the roster, most were seemingly due to injury. One exception is Léo Chú. Schmetzer suggested we shouldn’t read too much into that.

“I have in mind him playing a few more minutes (than last year),” Schmetzer said. “He has to earn those minutes. He’s looked good. His English is getting better — that helps. He’s worked very hard at his English and worked hard at understanding how we play. It can be a little more challenging than other leagues.”