One year ago, goalkeeper Stefan Frei and central defender Chad Marshall were the new guys finding their way into the heart of the Seattle Sounders FC defense.
Now, they’re the pillars of stability in a disrupted defense that’s once again working in at least two new players among the back five.
“It’s far different from last preseason for me,” Frei said. “We’ve been able to work on a lot of aspects already that we were nowhere near at this point last year. So I’m very exciting with that, to be getting sharper and sharper.”
However, there could be 50 percent turnover in front of Frei. Leo Gonzalez returns at left back and Marshall at center back, but right back DeAndre Yedlin has transferred to Tottenham Hotspur, and Zach Scott is working back from offseason surgery at the other center back position.
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English veteran Tyrone Mears was brought in to take Yedlin’s spot, and he seems to be doing so. However, the surprise shift of camp has been midfielder/outside back Brad Evans getting regular time in the middle alongside Marshall.
“It’s not like we have to teach (Mears) how to play right back,” Frei said. “He knows exactly what he’s doing. Brad maybe has to get used to the new position a little bit, but he’s obviously very, very intelligent and a versatile player and you see that he’s picking up certain (techniques). You’re on that last line of defense in front of the goalkeeper, so the risk-taking has to be very, very minimal. But he’s coming around. He’s a very versatile and a very good player.”
There also is a change behind Frei, where veteran Troy Perkins was brought in to replace retired reserve goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann. Frei has started Seattle’s two friendlies so far — a win over UCLA and a loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy — with Perkins handling second-half duties.
Pressure on the Seattle defense seems to have increased over the weekend with the announcement that designated player and four-time club MVP Osvaldo Alonso has undergone surgery on his right groin.
No timetable for his return has been given. In the first two friendlies of training camp, the Sounders have started Andy Rose and Micheal Azira and played Aaron Long in Alonso’s defensive midfielder spot.
Some clarification on Alonso’s status and the club’s plans in his absence are expected Monday, when the team returns to Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila for a week of local training.
“We’re going to work on a little bit more fitness,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Now we’re getting to the stages of sharpness and quickness and things like that, and really working on our passing and our cohesion and working to understand where we want guys on the field.”
On Feb. 15, the Sounders take off for two weeks of work in Arizona, including four games in the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson. Then they will break camp and return home for game-week preparations leading to their Major League Soccer opener March 8 at home against the New England Revolution.
“We’re going to try to take advantage of the next couple of weeks before the season starts,” Frei said. “Can’t wait, can’t wait. We’ve very excited to get going.”