No place like home

Sounders FC train at Qwest Field for the first time in 2010

There is no place in Major League Soccer like Qwest Field on a
gameday. The Sounders FC were reminded of that on Tuesday when they made
their first appearance at Qwest Field for the 2010 season.

“It’s great. Obviously the last time we were here we didn’t get
the result that we wanted in our last game against Houston. So, it’s got
that memory, but it’s also got the memory of the opening game and a lot
of the good accomplishments we had all last season,” Sounders FC head
coach Sigi Schmid said. “Every time you walk in here, even though the
seats are blue, I see green everywhere. It just reminds me that we are
about to embark on the season. I think it’s a good reminder for the
players that the season is around the corner.”

The Sounders and their fans will have a chance to break in the
stadium for the 2010 season on Thursday when Seattle faces their old
rivals to the south, the Portland Timbers of the USL, in the Community
Shield preseason match benefitting the Sounders FC four charity
partners.

While the defense has been solid, going 293 scoreless minutes
since allowing their last preseason goal, the offense has been
inconsistent. However, Schmid understands what it takes to get Freddie
Ljungberg, Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani going on the offensive end
while they wait for the return of Nate Jaqua, who has missed most of the
preseason due to injury.

“Obviously we are a team that is built around quickness and
speed, especially on the offensive part of field. The essence of our
game with Ljungberg, Montero and Zakuani and people like that is their
ability to get isolated and use their quickness and use their individual
skills and abilities to create space and make plays that way,” Schmid
said. “When things are going well for us it means the ball is moving
quickly and it means we are getting the ball early to our front runners
and giving them some time and space to take people on.”

That cohesion looked promising in Spain when the Sounders topped
Norwegian clubs Stabaek and Brann 2-0 and 1-0, respectively. However, it
wasn’t quite as prevalent in a scoreless draw with the Vancouver
Whitecaps FC Saturday.

“I think we can improve on a lot of things. We had a good
combination up in Vancouver. We came behind them very well,” Ljungberg
said. “But what we need more and what I said all preseason is we don’t
trust each other enough and that’s something we need to work on. Today
Sigi tried to work a little bit on the triangle in the middle to get one
guy open and then we can use the speed we have on our team.”

While the combinations have been a work in progress, the Sounders
have built the fitness for which Schmid hoped while training in Arizona
and Spain. He too, though, points out the need for a better on-field
understanding.

“In terms of our attacking rhythm and play with the ball I want
that to get better, but I think we are also making strides in that
direction and I expect it to be better when we play on Thursday and then
better again when we play in Colorado,” Schmid said. “I think we are
getting our understanding down and our sense of how to play with each
other.”

The club returns most of their 2009 squad, although they have had
to shuffle the lineup around a bit. Along with a few injuries, James
Riley won’t be eligible to play the season opener March 25 against the
Philadelphia Union as he will be serving a one-game suspension after
receiving a red card in Seattle’s 1-0 playoff loss in Houston.

That has meant extra playing time for players who have typically
played in a reserve role, but also masks some of the familiarity that is
implied by the return of 11 starters.

Three of the Sounders injured players, Brad Evans, Patrick Ianni
and Roger Levesque, returned to the field Tuesday, adding depth to the
training sessions and competition for playing time.

“It’s good obviously to get those guys back in,” Schmid said. “We
have been a little cautious with Evans because of the type of injury it
was. He probably didn’t need to get held out as long as we did but he’s
back. Ianni looks like he is full-throttle. And Roger getting back in
there is a big plus for us. It gives us more options and also when you
get more options you get more competition and then everybody’s game
picks up a little bit.”

The hope is that more players can be reinserted into regular
rotations, the cohesion will build and goals will be the result. If
nothing else, they are looking for better results than the 0-0 draw with
Vancouver when the Timbers come to town.

“Our touch seemed a little off,” Ljungberg said of the Vancouver
game. “We want to continue to be solid defensively and have better ball
movement offensively.”