BY Stanley Holmes 07:23PM 02/07/2011

Sounders to thin out players in training matches

Five weeks before First Kick, the coaching staff is using the slate of matches to evaluate new players and test returning players as they continue to trim the roster and explore different combinations.

Fredy Montero keeping the ball in 1-0 victory against Vancouver last Friday in training scrimmage. / Sounders FC

The Sounders are set to test themselves this week in a series of training matches against rival teams from Major League Soccer.

The three matches will help coach Sigi Schmid decide who goes and who stays, build the fitness of the core squad, experiment with formations and put players in different positions. For some bubble players, this could be their final days with the team.

Monday the Sounders released defender Corey Attaway and forward Kerry Baptiste. More player cuts are expected as early as Tuesday.

For the bubble players, the time is now. They have to show they belong on the squad.

Forward O'Brian White winning the ball against Vancouver defenders. / Sounders FC

“It’s important for them to perform,” said Chris Henderson, technical director for the Sounders. “It’s a test for these guys to be seen and show what they can do.”

The final exam begins Tuesday at noon when Seattle kicks off the first of three games. The Sounders will meet Real Salt Lake Tuesday at the Grande Sports World, in Casa Grande, AZ. Then the Sounders travel to Phoenix to face the Columbus Crew on Thursday and play Chivas USA on Saturday.

Between the contests the Sounders will continue to grind out two-a-day training sessions at Grande Sports World. For the veterans and the ones likely to make the squad, it’s now about increasing fitness levels, sharpening their first touch and building team cohesion.

“It’s also a chance to measure up with another opponent,” Henderson said. “If you can win, it’s always a plus. But it’s not vital.”

At this point, the preseason matches are going to start coming quickly. The team returns to Seattle late Saturday and will train for a week before heading to Brandenton, FL., on Feb. 18 for additional matches. Once the Sounders return, the team will face local rivals Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps in the Cascadia Summit and then face off against MLS Cup Champions Colorado Rapids in the Community Shield match.

“It’s about managing minutes for the guys, it’s about working on different combinations of players and see how a player like O’Brian White fits in,” Henderson said. “As we start getting closer to March 15, teams will get fine tuned, starters will be getting more minutes.”

The Sounders opened their slate of training games by defeating the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 1-0, last Friday.