(FRIDAY NIGHT UPDATE: Added some info about the S.C. United Battery Academy’s games this weekend at the bottom. dc)
Dave Clark (@bedirthan) of the Seattle blog Sounder at Heart (@SounderAtHeart) does a feature called Three Questions where he’ll get information from people who write about the teams the Sounders are about to play and passes along their answers to give his readers a sense of what’s coming up. You can do that in MLS, but we’re a ways from that being practical down in USL PRO.
I answered Dave’s questions about Charleston yesterday and in exchange, he answered mine.
CHS: The Sounders struggled on and off the field late last season. What needs to change for 2014, and how successful has the offseason rebuilding program been?DC: If you thought you were familiar with the faces of Sounders soccer, don’t think so any more. Only eight players have more than a year with the club. Six of the expected starting XI didn’t even spend the all of 2013 with the organization. When ownership decided they weren’t going fire Sigi Schmid they turned the American cliche on its head and fired the players, a lot of them. Most notable was the Eddie Johnson deal, but also moving on were Mauro Rosales, Steve Zakuani, Michael Gspurning, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Patrick Ianni and others.The overhaul is pretty massive for a club that was in the MLS Cup Playoffs and even won a game there. It is also a strong indication that merely making the Playoffs isn’t enough and they have a plan on how to get there. They added two former team captains and bet heavy on fixing a lockerroom that seemed broken at times.CHS: Which Sounders most need to state their case in the preseason?DC: Andy Rose is making a strong case to earn starting lineup minutes despite him playing the positions that Clint Dempsey and Derrick Evans play. There is some real competition for guys in the 18. It is likely that only one of Tristan Bowen and Chad Barrett gets regular playing time in the attack. On defense Jalil Anibaba, Zach Scott and Dylan Remick are showing well, but most teams don’t have three defenders on the bench.CHS: How do you expect this year’s style of Sounders soccer to be different from last year’s? Will it be tactical changes that matter most, or “rebooting the lockerroom” changes?DC: There are some tactical changes. Sigi Schmid has said his key is not going to be a 4-4-2 or other notation, but getting the best players on the pitch in spaces where they will do well. That means something that can only be short-handed as an asymmetrical diamond. The left side midfielder will play wide and high. Dempsey will be high and in a space where a #10 plays. Attacks on the right will route through DeAndre Yedlin.But the people of Charleston won’t see that. There’s only one Dempsey. Instead it will be a more conventional bucket 4-4-2.Seattle is more aggressive throughout the pitch this preseason than in past seasons. Like usual when they recover the team will look to quickly turn the opportunity into a shot on goal. Sigi is a big believer in minimizing the time from transition to attack. It can be fun to watch when the offense is scoring. When it isn’t it looks like a lot of hard running.
So, if you’re in Charleston and you’re thinking about attending the tournament, you’d better hurry. As of 1 p.m. Friday, there were fewer than 300 tickets remaining. Nothing but East Stand box seats.
The week-long tourney kicks off at 5 p.m. Saturday with D.C. United vs. Houston, followed by Charleston vs. Seattle at 7:15. Then you get matches on Wednesday and a week from Saturday. It’s always the same schedule, with Charleston hosting the nightcap.
Gates at Blackbaud open at 4 p.m. Parking is $5.
A few notes from Friday’s media lunch:
AZIRA WILL PLAY FOR CHARLESTON ON SATURDAY: Battery midfielder Mike Azira has been with Seattle since January and has a great chance of making the roster, but he’ll be in Battery stripes when the two teams play. As he understands the current state of discussions over his status, he expects to play for Seattle during the rest of the tournament.
But when I asked Mike Anhaeuser whether Azira would be wearing Rave Green during the final two matches of the CCC, he said he didn’t know. Discussions are ongoing. So color the matches after Saturday “I don’t know” when it comes to Azira’s participation.
THERE’S A NEW SHIRT SPONSOR: The company (SPARC) is still the same, but the SPARCet logo from last year is gone, replaced by a new SPARC product called “teamphoria!” At least the new product has the advantage of being something with a pretty obvious pronunciation (for the record, it was supposed to be “Spar-KET,” not “Spar-SET,” or the very French “spar-SAY”).
So there you have it. Now everybody who bought 2014 shirts has to buy a 2014 jersey just to look current.
WEIRD MEDIA LUNCH: Everyone knew the Houston Dynamo were going to miss the event due to late travel plans. And the original plan was that the other two MLS teams would only bring five players to the event.
Instead, Seattle showed up on time with Coach Sigi Schmid, 2013 rookie sensation DeAndre Yedlin, and former Battery stars Osvaldo Alonso, Lamar Neagle and Alex Caskey. And when D.C. United finally showed up — so late that everyone from Seattle and most of the media outlets in attendance had packed up and gone away — it was with the entire team in tow.
Still, with all the Battery-Sounders connections, there were some cool reunions.
NEW ARRIVALS: As I Tweeted on Wednesday, the Battery won’t be getting its first contingent of loanees from Vancouver in time for the first night of the CCC. The date I got was Monday, but that’s the second time the ETA has been pushed back, so at this point I figure they’ll get here whenever the Whitecaps feel like it.
However, Anhaeuser did get reinforcements this week in the form of returning players Heviel Cordoves and Maikel Chang, who spent the offseason playing indoor for the Wichita B-52s. Anhaeuser said he gave them Thursday off because of fatigue, but that they both looked sharp in practice this. Both are expected to play on Saturday, although neither is expected to go the full 90.
S.C. UNITED BATTERY ACADEMY UPDATE
Just got off the phone with SCUBA Coach Clark Brisson, who walked me through the relevant info for this weekend’s Charleston Battery Challenge Cup, the Academy’s annual event, which takes place this weekend.
The U-18s and U-16s will be playing the PA Classics from Lancaster, PA, on Saturday and Sunday, while the U-14s take on Highland Football Club from Asheville on Saturday, and Furman United on Sunday.
The Academy had a big day on National Signing Day earlier this month. Ten players from the squad signed scholarship offers. The organization will be honoring its seniors between Saturday’s CCC matches, with an event tent at Blackbaud Stadium rented out for a party with Academy families and players.
As for the CCC itself, Anhaeuser has mentioned that “one or two” academy players could see minutes during this year’s tournament (two played in 2013). Brisson couldn’t confirm that yet on Friday, and said it was probably more likely that if Academy players were going to get in the action, Wednesday was the most likely day.
The most likely candidate to suit up with the first team is winger Avery Ryan, who signed with High Point University on Feb. 4 and appeared in the waning minutes of the Battery’s 1-1 draw vs. Coastal Carolina on Wednesday.
“Avery’s done well for us,” Brisson said. “He’s got seven goals, and he’s playing better every week.”
This weekend’s academy schedule:
U18s vs. PA Classics U18s, 8:30 a.m., College of Charleston Stadium at Patriots Point
U16s vs. PA Classics U15s, 10:30 a.m., College of Charleston Stadium at Patriots Point
U14s vs. HFC U16s, 10 a.m., James Island.
U14s vs. Furman U15s at 8 a.m., College of Charleston Stadium at Patriots Point
U18s vs. PA Classics U18s, 9 a.m., Blackbaud Stadium.
U16s vs. PA Classics U16s, 9 a.m., Bishop England
TOP IMAGE: John Wilson and Mike Anhaeuser of the Battery pose with DeAndre Yedlin, Sigi Schmid and three former Battery players in Sounders uniforms: Alex Caskey (2nd Sounder from left), Osvaldo Alonso (third Sounder from left), and Lamar Neagle (right). Dan Conover photos.