BY Stanley Holmes 06:14PM 02/16/2011

Sounders still have work to do

Steve Zakuani says the team has yet to really play well in preseason but the next three weeks should fix that before they face the Galaxy March 15.

Rookie Michael Tetteh battling for the ball in training Wednesday / Sportspress Northwest, Drew McKenzie

TUKWILA — The Sounders resumed training Wednesday at Starfire under cool skies and pressure to sharpen up.

This is a transition week for the squad of about 33 players still hoping to make the 28-man roster. The team trains two days here and then heads for the balmy weather of Brandenton, Florida, where the team plays three preseason matches.

This is also time where coach Sigi Schmid will need to begin trimming the roster to 28 to meet the March 1 deadline. Even though he knows the top 15 players, the other 13 spots remain in contention. He’s taking 33 to Florida to give the bubble players a final opportunity to make their case.

“We’ve got some guys that we wanted to continue to give a look to,” Schmid said. “There are some tough battles going on in terms of positions.”

For the apparent first team, though, the players will need to improve their fitness, polish their first touch and step up their game. Neither the players nor Schmid said they were particularly pleased with the matches in Arizona, even though they were training games.

Allowing six goals against Real Salt Lake and Columbus has got to be a tad worrisome. Beating expansion team Vancouver and Chivas USA (a very weak team) by identical 1-0 scores hardly makes a statement.

Still, it’s midway through the preseason training, and the coaches and players know they must sharpen their play and coalesce as a team.

“We’re still not where we need to be,” said Steve Zakuani, following the first of two training sessions on Wednesday. “We’re about a few weeks away from absolutely gelling. But it takes a few weeks to do that.”

Zakuani said the Florida trip will center on getting match fit and focusing on team tactics. It will be less about the training and more about the training matches. As the March 15 season opener draws near against LA Galaxy, these games against Dallas, Houston and Chicago become vital in the final tuneup to the regular season.

“We haven’t really played well so far,” Zakuani said. “It’s going to be important for us to really get our game down.”

It’s important not to draw too many conclusions yet. The season is long and players are still building their fitness, still sharpening their touches and still getting to know the new guys.

In a half-field game today, Fredy Montero looked strong moving and directing the ball — and he scored a nice goal. He looked hungry today. Blaise Nkufo also scored in the scrimmage.  Rookie defender/winger Michael Tetteh had some nice touches, midfield rookie invitee Jonathon Prieto continues to extend his improbable MLS shelf life and could be the surprise selection, and forward O’Brian White looked lively again in the scrimmage.

Schmid is pleased with White’s progress. “He’s done well and you try to bring attention to people that have done well,” Schmid said. “His attitude has been good. He has worked hard. We still feel he is getting fit.”

So, the Sunshine State will host the final phase of preseason training. For the top 15 or so, it’s really about preparing for the season. For the others, it’s now or never.

“I would say probably 13, 14 guys are pretty secure and you’d say those guys are automatic,” Schmid said. “But the rest of the guys are in a little bit of competition.”

THROW-INS

  • The invitees and rookies remaining with the team include: keepers Bryan Meredith, Josh Ford, defenders Leone Cruz and Danny Earls, and midfielders Servando Carrasco, Prieto, Lamar Neagle and Tetteh, who is under contract.
  • Pat Noonan, Taylor Graham and Nate Jaqua were among those participating in training today, but to various degrees. Noonan and Graham, who are fighting for roster spots, were able to participate in the scrimmages following injuries picked up in training camp, or in Noonan’s case, going full out for the first time since recovering from his hip injury.
  • “It was good for Taylor and Pat to be full in training,” Schmid said. “Obviously it gives us depth to play them in games and they’ll decide how it turns out.”
  • Schmid said Jaqua still remains three to four weeks away from match fitness but he will accompany the team to the IMG Academy in Florida, where he will continue to work on fitness and work his way into full participation in training sessions.


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