[MLS SPOTLIGHT] Unlike the past two preseasons, getting two goals in a 120-minute game against Columbus Wednesday that also featured three red cards didn’t change the collective mindset of the Sounders. That's what leading the league in scoring (56 goals in 34 games), as they did in 2011, will do.
“We out-possessed the teams we played, we hit posts, we hit the crossbar, we had balls cleared off the line,” said midfielder Brad Evans of the team’s offense aside from the goals scored by Fredy Montero and Cordell Cato in a 2-0 victory at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“We’re going to score goals, I don’t think anybody is worried about that. A couple of preseasons we said, ‘The goals aren’t coming’ and we hit the panic button a little bit. Now we know when the game comes we’re a good enough team that we can score goals.”
Finding a partner for Montero up top is among Coach Sigi Schmid’s most important tasks in the preseason, which has less than three weeks remaining before Seattle takes on Santos of Mexico in the Concacaf Champions’\ League quarterfinals on March 7. The duties have been shared by returnees Mike Fucito, Roger Levesque and Sammy Ochoa as well as two newcomers, Christian Sivebaek and Cato; Sivebaek set up Cato with a cross from the left side that the Trinidad & Tobago striker headed into the net for Seattle’s second goal.
“It allowed us to look at Roger at outside back,” said Schmid of losing Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Amadou Sanyang to second cautions and the dismissal of the Crew’s Bernardo Anor. “Actually we weren't going to play Christian Sivebaek because of his ankle a little bit but he said he felt a lot better today so it was a miracle recovery and we put him in up front. It was a chance for us to see him up front and obviously he was quite effective there."
A 6-foot-3, 195-pound native of Vejle in Denmark, Sivebaek has impressed his new teammates with not only his size and blazing speed but a good touch. “He’s a big figure but when he gets on the field he’s got a good touch, and he’s fast, he’s so fast,” says Evans of the 24-year-old. “I haven’t seen a guy that big that fast in a long time, and obviously that’s his most potent weapon.”
Schmid says Sivebaek will get time in a variety of positions during preseason as the coach readies his squad for a heavy burden of league, Open Cup, and international games. Once again, depth and health will be crucial factors, and Schmid has also plotted the preseason to mirror the Saturday/Wednesday/Saturday/Wednesday match schedule the team will encounter starting next month.
Playmaker and 2011 MLS Newcomer of the Year Mauro Rosalesmissed the playoffs with a small MCL tear in his right knee he suffered in the final game of the regular season, and Steve Zakuani is in the final stages of recovering from a shattered right leg and subsequent complications.
Another newcomer, Swedish right back Adam Johansson, worked a combination with Rosales in the buildup to Montero’s goal as the Sounders prepare for their first season without James Riley, who had started the majority of games since the team joined MLS in 2009.
“It's good to see the new guys involved, said Schmid. “Johansson gets an assist. Sivebaek really made that goal for Cordell with a good move, a little scoop pass and Cordell got in there. I think the fans will see that those guys give us a dimension, obviously with their pace and their speed and their athleticism from that standpoint and that's going to be a nice addition to our squad."
The biggest hole to fill is in goal, where Kasey Keller reigned until his retirement last November. Though Schmid has not designated a starter, the signing of Michael Gspurning, 30, is one of the most critical decisions in the franchise’s brief MLS history.
When asked how to replace Keller, Evans said, “Uhh, you sign a really tall Austrian.” (Gspurning is 6-foot-5 and weighs 209 pounds.) He played the first 90 minutes against Columbus, with Bryan Meredith taking over for the last half-hour.
“It’s difficult,” says Evans. “Obviously Kasey was the voice of our club for three years. Everybody knows he was one of the best if not the best American goalkeepers to ever play the game. You can’t replace him. You can try and bring in another top-quality goalkeeper, and that’s what we’ve done.”