Hot Sounders competition in warm Arizona

Feb 2, 2012, 8:53 AM | Updated: 9:58 am

The Seattle Sounders FC has moved soccer training camp to Casa Grande, Ariz. for the next week. There is plenty of hot competition for jobs in the warm desert sunshine.

With CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matches just a few weeks away, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid admits cracking the starting 11 will be a difficult task.

“With our team it’s a case of a solid returning nucleus that’s very competitive,” Schmid said in our phone interview. “It’s returning guys who realize they’re in a battle right now.”

Opportunities for newcomers to impress the coaches won’t be as prevalent as the first three Sounders preseasons. Seattle already cut five young players, including University of Washington product Abdul Aman.

“Certainly they need to bring a quality of play, learn quickly, step up and adjust to the speed of play,” Schmid said. “The quicker you do that, the more it helps you.
This season probably more than any, because it is a shorter period of time to get ready.”

Familiar names are still the backbone of Seattle’s 2012 fortunes. There’s plenty of firepower in Fredy Montero, Lamar Neagle, Brad Evans, Alvaro Fernandez, and Mauro Rosales. Steve Zakuani can be an X-factor if he makes a full recovery from last year’s devastating leg injury.

“We’re going to have the returning experienced players and new key signees together in training camp games starting next Monday against Vancouver,” Schmid said. “We’ll be pushing them towards a full 90 minutes sooner than previous training camps.”

The defense has been overhauled with Michael Gspurning in goal, and Marc Burch and Adam Johansson battling Zach Scott and Leo Gonzalez for outside defender starting jobs.

Jeff Parke’s appearance with the U.S. national soccer team can only bolster his confidence at center back alongside Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. Osvaldo Alonso is arguably the best holding midfielder in the league.

“We’ve worked hard to keep this group together because we think there’s ability and talent,” Schmid said.

The Sounders kick off their 2012 schedule March 7 at CenturyLink Field when they host Mexico’s Santos Laguna.

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Hot Sounders competition in warm Arizona