Sounders about to test their reserve strength

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comFebruary 16, 2013 

The Seattle Sounders’ preseason schedule starts a busy stretch today, which could offer good preparation for the busy stretch of meaningful games that awaits them in a couple of weeks.

Sounders FC plays the first of four friendlies in eight days today when it meets Real Salt Lake in the second match of the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson, Ariz.

When that competition concludes a week later, the Sounders will turn their attention to a tightly packed cluster of meaningful games: the Major League Soccer regular-season opener March 2 against Montreal, followed by the CONCACAF Champions League aggregate-score quarterfinal series against Tigre starting March 6 in Monterrey, Mexico, and concluding March 12 in Seattle.

“We’ve got to prepare for that (MLS) game first,” coach Sigi Schmid said, “and within that preparation we’re also preparing for the Champions League. It’s a little bit delicate in terms of are we fit enough that early in the season to have guys play 90 minutes and 90 minutes within four days of each other and be at a really high level? That’s something that we’re going to determine over the (remaining week in Tucson). Maybe the opening game of MLS will be a little more of a mixed team than it would normally have been.”

Schmid will begin his personnel juggling today, as the Sounders return to the pitch three days after opening Desert Diamond Cup with a 2-0 win over New England. That result puts Seattle alone at the top of the four-team competition because RSL and New York played to draw in their opening match of the four-game tournament.

However, if the Sounders are going to remain at the top, they are going to have to do it on the strength of their reserves. Schmid said his top priority next week is the friendly against Mexican second-division club Veracruz, which will serve as a dress rehearsal for Champions League.

“We tried to push our starters for 60 minutes or so in the game (against New England),” Schmid said. “We’ll try to get them probably another 45 (today), and then hold them until we play the Veracruz game on Friday.”

That means the reserves will play the second half against RSL today, and then get the bulk of the minutes Wednesday against New York (Desert Diamond Cup) and the following Saturday in the championship or third-place game of the DDC.

Schmid also is working with a roster that remains in motion.

Defender Marc Burch is unavailable today because of a red card suspension from the Revolution match. Defender Mikael Silvestre has returned to Europe after training with the club.

Meanwhile, midfielder Mario Martinez has joined the Sounders after tending to personal business in Honduras, and supplemental draft pick Kevin Durr has come in while on break from the Air Force Academy.

For all that, Schmid said he has identified “eight or nine” of his likely first 11 lineup heading into the season. He said the uncertainty remains at forward and central defender.

The RSL match begins at 3 p.m. today and will be streamed live on mlssoccer.com and soundersfc.com.

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt

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