The Sounders held their media day at CenturyLink Field today, on the eve of their CCL quarterfinal opener against Club America. (7 p.m. Tuesday, FS1.)
One of the stars of the show was the new lush FieldTurf at the stadium.
But the tip-top topic was Obafemi Martins’ departure -- although not yet fully offical -- and his replacement by homegrown Jordan Morris.
Some highlight quotes and info from the day:
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GM GARTH LAGERWEY
Overview: I think we’ve begun remaking our team a little bit. Unfortunately we’re still not going to have any news with respect to Obafemi Martins as that transaction is not formally and legally concluded. We are still hopeful and optimistic that it will. … But we are really excited to start the season against Club America, one of the toughest opponents we’ll face here, and we’re really excitred about some of the young players that we’ll be able to add in particular.
Roster news: We’ve signed Nathan Sturgis and he’s eligible to play tomorrow, so that’s an exciting addition: former Sounder coming back and joining the team. Damion Lowe is on trial right now and is training with Minnesota. … In general from a roster perspective we’re basically full, but we do have some ability still to tweak and add and subtract. We don’t have to be MLS roster compliant until March 1. … (Regarding center back Roberto Chen), we’ll see. It all depends in the big picture in terms of how you shape the entire roster. Every roster choice you make impacts multiple positions and multiple salary cap slots that you’re trying to fill or not fill. The good news – if the Martins transaction is concluded – is it would give us a lot more roster flexibility from a roster and salary cap perspective. We still have to be mindful of how many foreign players we have. We’re at eight foreign players right now, which is our maximum. But we do have some flexibility within that context to add and subtract some guys and to continue to add players if we think they’re good enough.
More on Martins: The timing is not ideal, I think that’s stating the obvious when you lose a player who’s had an impact on your club the past couple of years a couple of weeks before the season, that’s not how you’d choose to do it. … We’ve got a lot of good players here. When you look at the team we’re going to field tomorrow against Club America it’s going to look I think have nine or 10 guys who started in the playoffs for us last year. We obviously feel we are healthy certainly than we were in that Dallas playoff game – Brad’s back among others. … You always have contingency plans in place, and we’re going to take our time, and we’re going to replace Oba maybe not position for position, maybe not player for player. But I think some of the replacement is going to come from the group in terms of how we collectively play. And I also think that we’re going to look to add some more talent. If this transaction is concluded, we have some roster and some salary cap flexibility to go look at players. In a perfect world, I don’t want three DP forwards … particularly when our best young player in Jordan Morris is also a forward. We’d like to have some more balance in the team, front to back. … We understand the anxiety in the community when you lose a player of Obafemi Martins’ stature. But when you look at the result against the LA Galaxy and how well we played in the new system, you also don’t want to rush into anything. Nobody’s blowing out of proportion a preseason result – that’s not the intention. But I just want to emphasize that we’re going to be cautious about this, because we believe we have a good team, we have good players. Might we look different than last year? Yeah. But can we be successful with the team we have? We believe we can.
On a timetable for new DP: We don’t. But there are some roster moves we can make. As you guys know, Ozzie was a DP here. … Without going too far into the weeds, we can make Ozzie a DP, and that can be temporary or long-term. … We’re not going to have an immediate reaction and say we’re going to go out and find another striker or any other player. That said, we’re well-prepared and we’re looking.
We talked a lot in the offseason about getting younger and faster, and I believe we’ve done that and I believe you see it when you see our second team out there training. We’ve done a better job of aligning first tier guys and second tier guys in terms of style of play. … You have an older player in Clint on the left wing; we have a younger player behind him in Joevan Jones who can provide a lot of pace and energy. On the other side you have it reversed: Jordan Morris is a younger player who can do a lot of the running, and Tyrone Mears is an older player who maybe you don’t want to ask to do quite as much for 34 games. … The players are ultimately the ones who are going to get his done, and we think we have a pretty good team.
Coach SIGI SCHMID
On Morris: I think he’s ready to play in the league. I thought he was ready to play in the league a year ago. … He is what he is. He’s a strong, powerful player. He’s got good speed. He’s the kind of guy that can stretch the opponent’s defense. He’s a handful because he is stocky and hard to get around at times. And he’s a good, hard worker. So I think he’s a very good addition to our team.
On opening at home: Playing home versus playing away first, it’s a two-legged series. The most important thing for sure is to keep a clean sheet. If we can go down there havening not given up an away goal here, I think that’s a priority. Winning is also important. Getting as many goals as we can is important. But certainly not giving away a goal, because if we don’t give away a goal and win the game, that forces them to come at us down there and opens up possibilities for us to counter and get an away goal which puts added pressure on them. So, winning the game is important to us, and making sure that we don’t give up a goal.
More on Sturgis: Nate’s a solid player. He’s an accomplished player. I think you know what Nate can do for you. And my history with Nate goes all the way back to the youth world championships in 2005 and in those world championships he played as a center back. And now he’s pretty much a midfielder, but he’s technically very sound. He’s got two good feet. Hits a great ball. Completes his passes. Good guy in the locker room. Get along with the guys. Wanted to be here, which is also an important aspect for us. He gives us a little bit of a veteran presence coming off the bench at midfield. It’s a long season, you need some of those guys as well, and our competition’s good. When I look at our trainings and one group playing against the other group, there’s some pretty good football not only from the starting group, there’s good football from the second group as well and I think Nate helps that.
Sounders captain Brad Evans:
On the turf: Night and day. … It’s great. I think it actually plays really nice. With the turf before, it was so matted down, definitely bouncy, and when it was wet, it didn’t play true. I think even though it was wet (Sunday) it still played true. I think we still have a little tinkering to do with the amount of sand, the amount of rubber, that’s going to be in there, because it is a long turf, it’s a good couple of inches, so toying with the depth and how we want to play on it will be key moving forward. But yeah, today I haven’t heard any complaints. It’s definitely a lot softer than before. I think the joints are feeling better even after two days of being on it, so from that standpoint very pleased with the turf. … Last year’s turf was more of an advantage to us, just the way it played. I think teams were shellshocked when they came in here. Henry wouldn’t even travel here. Certain players wouldn’t even travel to come play here. I think that says something about the old turf. … I don’t know if it’s a real advantage. We’ve gotten to play on it the last couple of days. We’re more used to playing on turf than anything. But this plays truer than any turf we’ve had in the past.
On facing Club America: We know that we can get results at home no matter who it’s against. We’vwe always gotten results here, and no matter who has been on the field. We have to remember that we’re a very good home team, but then the ultimate test is playing a week later at Acteca. Tomorrow we have to be smart. It’s our first game with repercussions. You concede a goal you can find yourself digging out of that, and that’s the reality of it. we have to take the game to them but also know that we can score goals at any time.
On Martins: It’s not an ideal time. We all understand the decision I guess – the circumstance, the money factor – I think we can all wrap our head around that. But it’s obviously not ideal timing. … But I think if we could choose a player to step in right now it would be Jordan. I think everybody within the locker room is extremely happy. We havent’ really spoken about Oba at all, so from that standpoint I think if we thought there was something missing I think there would be more chatter. But the reality is I think we’ve been extremely happy with Jordan.
On the turf: It’s a lot better than last year. It’s new. We want to start with one win at home.
On Club America: It will be our first real game of the season, so we want to get off to a good start. America is a good team, and hopefully it will be exciting for the fans. ... They move the ball well, they pass the ball well. They’ve got players that can hurt you in the attacking third and pick up goals.
On the turf: It feels a lot better. It’s a little bit more soft, so when you’re planting yourself it feels like it’s a little bit easier on your joints. There’s still a little bit too much sentiment or rubber, so hopefully they scrape it a little bit more, but it’s a lot better.
On Morris: I’m sure he’ll be ready to play. He’s played with the U.S. men’s national team.
On Oba: I’ve always spoke highly of Oba, said that I loved playing with him. If the move is finalized, I would definitely miss him. But it’s like anything else: You have to continue where you are. We still have a good group of players. It’s about everybody stepping up and making sure they want to be in that starting 11. We still want to do great things here. … At the end of the day everybody has the right to choose their own path in their career. I have a lot of respect for Oba. He’s come from being a little kid in Nigeria to playing for some of the best clubs in the world. He’s had a great career. So who am I to tell him anything? All I can say is I enjoyed my time playing with him. He’s one of my favorite players that I (had as) a teammate to play with. … I’m going to miss him. I always knew that if I made the right runs he would find me – and vice versa, I hope he felt that I could find him, too. Wherever he’ll go, he’ll be successful, if the move is finalized. But yeah, we’ll miss him.
On Club America: It’s a big game, but super-exciting. I’m excited to get out here in front of these home fans and play a game. They’re obviously a very good team, but I think we’re ready and excited to get going. ... It’s going to be crazy. I’m excited. My family is coming to the game, and friends and things like that. It will be extra special.
On his own play: I think it’s going well. We were working on (the 4-3-3) throughout preseason, and to get that result (at LA) kind of shows that things are moving in the right direction and that the formation is really coming along. It was a fun game, and it was good to get my first real run-out with the team.
On his role with Martins gone: Obviously it was great to start that game in LA, but I’m just here to help in any way I can and to try to earn my spot on the field. There are some great players here. It’s always tough with competition.
On pressure replacing Oba: No. It’s obviously exciting if I get some time to play. He was obviously a very good player, but we’re excited about the group we have.
On help from veteran forwards Dempsey and Valdez: They’ve been great. Ivanschitz, Friberg, the guys have been great. Tyrone Mears always talks to me during games and putting me in the right position. All the guys have been very welcoming and great with the communication aspect.