The Seattle Sounders opened their preseason Wednesday with a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
But the more important numbers were 4-3-3 — the much-discussed formation the club took public for the first time.
“I thought it was good,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “There’s times where we defended with seven last year. We’ve got to tweak a few things in terms of our shape and in terms of where we’re trying to force the ball, but that’s something that we can sort out.”
With one exception, Seattle opened with a lineup that would seem as natural in a cup final as in a preseason opener at the secondary stadium of the Kino Sports Complex. The starting forwards were Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez. The midfielders were Osvaldo Alonso, Erik Friberg and Andreas Ivanschitz. Defenders Tyrone Mears, Chad Marshall, Jimmy Ockford and Joevin Jones played in front of goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
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All of those are returning starters with the exceptions of the newly acquired Jones, and Ockford — the latter a surprise fill-in for Brad Evans, who was held out because of hamstring tightness.
“We’re trying to give him a good look. We’re trying to give Damion Lowe a good look,” Schmid said. “So we’re playing one next to (veteran Zach Scott) and one next to Chad Marshall. Jimmy is a player who is good in the air. He made a couple of good plays defensively in this game. He’s come and he’s worked hard every day.”
The Cascadia rivals played scorelessly through the first 45 minutes, when most of their first teams were playing.
“As the first half went on I thought we played better, which is a good sign,” Schmid said. “Guys trying to get used to each other in a little bit new positions. The game is always a little bit different than it is in practice. I was happy with some of the chances we created. Our timing was a little bit off, but we haven’t been working that much on attacking. We’ve been working more on our fitness and our defending.”
Vancouver outscored Seattle 2-1 in the second half, when reserves took over. The Sounders’ second unit was made up of goalkeeper Tyler Miller; defenders Oniel Fisher, Scott, Lowe and Dylan Remick; midfielders Cristian Roldan, Michael Farfan and Nathan Sturgis; and forwards Ben Speas, Darwin Jones and Aaron Kovar.
The Whitecaps quickly broke through against that group, as Lowe was called for a foul in the penalty area and Darren Mattocks converted the penalty kick.
Darwin Jones equalized in the 77th minute, assisted by Kovar.
“I was playing off the defender’s back shoulder,” Jones said. “I knew we were on the counter. Me and Kovar made eye contact, and he slid me through.”
However, Mattocks struck again in the 89th minute, taking advantage of a missed clearance by Lowe.
“We made two bad mistakes for goals,” Schmid said. “We can’t make those kinds of mistakes.”
Seattle concluded the evening with an extra 45 minutes against host FC Tucson of the Premier Development League. Kovar scored the only goal in that one.
“Honestly, great ball from Mike Nelson, one of the new guys,” Kovar said. “Just perfect weighted. It’s right in my path, so all I had to do was run straight onto it.”
The Sounders return to training Thursday and Friday before resuming Desert Friendlies play at 6 p.m. Saturday against the MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers. Schmid said Evans could return for that one.
Seattle concludes its Arizona training with a 6 p.m. Tuesday match against Celaya FC of Mexico.