The Sounders returned to practice Tuesday following a road loss over the weekend in Houston. Defense was a clear emphasis after allowing three goals to the Dynamo. Here are a few other notes…
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— It’s Portland Week, so a few Sounders were asked to describe the Timbers in one word. Coach Sigi Schmid said he couldn’t share the word he was first thinking of, then opted safely for “rival”. Michael Gspurning chose the same. Brad Evans picked “egotistical”.
— Another indication it’s Portland Week? This quote from Schmid: “If you’ve got to motivate them for this game, then they need to play for a different club.”
— That intensity shouldn’t show up too much in practice, though: “Hopefully they’ll save that for Sunday, (where) they won’t kick each other but they’ll kick the opponent.”
— There was one curious absence in Obafemi Martins. The forward, who is recovering from a sprained ankle, was expected back Tuesday after an excused absence for a family-related matter over the weekend. The latest update is Martins should be back Wednesday. Said Schmid: “He was supposed to be here today. He’s missed practice today. … It’s one missed practice. He’ll be fine and we’ll move on.”
— Alex Caskey has returned to full practice but is still feeling the effects of ankle surgery last month. Steve Zakuani, who has missed the past 16 games, has also been participating in all the team’s drills but has still been feeling pain following sports hernia surgery in June.
— Schmid said Zakuani is “getting closer” to selection, “but a lot depends on how he reacts. He still has certain situations that cause him pain when he does them, then it takes him a little bit of time to recover. In a real game you don’t get that time to recover. In practice you can recover.”
— Osvaldo Alonso and Djimi Traore just jogged and had the rest of the day off. Schmid indicated Alonso felt a muscle twinge in Houston that he played through. Traore, of course, was subbed out late Saturday after a knock to an already sore ankle. The aim was for them to take it easy and at this point they’re expected to be ready for Sunday’s game barring setback.
— Here is Schmid on the Sounders-Portland rivalry: “It’s huge for the Northwest because I think it really puts the stamp on the Northwest as being one of the hotbeds of soccer, if not the hotbed of soccer, in this country. You can sell out CenturyLink for a game like this between two American teams. I think it makes a huge statement for our league.”
— And did he ever think CenturyLink Field would be too small for the contest, with the full 66,500 seats sold out? “It’s a good problem to have,” the coach said. “You never would’ve thought that as you started into the career of the Sounders in their second reincarnation here, in MLS. Now to realize that might’ve been the case, maybe you could’ve sold 75,000 for this week, it’s a fantastic feeling to have.”
— The Sounders have three forwards any team would want in Martins, Johnson and Clint Dempsey. I asked Schmid how he’s thinking about getting them all involved. “That’s what we have to see,” he said. “We haven’t really had an opportunity to play all three of them at the same time, so we just have to figure it out. You don’t know until you stick them out there in a game for sure and see what everybody’s tendencies become, and what they do or don’t do when pressure hits. That’s when you can really tell whether it will work in a certain formation or not. That’s something that’s still ahead of us. It’s unfortunate that we’re 22 games in and we have to try and figure it out, but it’s fortunate that if we have enough talent that if we figure it out, it should be good.”
— And is this the most talented team Schmid has had? “I try never to compare teams because every team has a little bit of a different persona and you have different aspects to successful teams. Obviously we had some talented players when I coached in Columbus with (Guillermo Barros) Schelotto and a few others. We had talented players in L.A. and (Carlos) Ruiz had an unbelievable season. The thing I will say of all the championship teams that I’ve had, college and on, is you always need that one guy who sort of hits a good streak or gets hot at the right time, who you can sort of climb on their shoulders a little bit. Sometimes it’s a goalkeeper playing very well, like Matt Reis did one year with me at UCLA and we won the championship. Sometimes it’s a forward like Ruiz or a midfielder like Schelotto. But you usually need one guy who steps it up.”
— Schmid, once again, didn’t place too much blame on Gspurning’s three goals allowed in Houston outside of the first. Here was his response when asked if he confidence level has changed when it comes to the starting goalkeeper: “No, I have confidence in Michael. I have confidence in Marcus (Hahnemann).”
— Lastly, a Portland story from Schmid: “There always used to be one fan, and actually I was talking to somebody from Portland when I was down there who actually knows the name of the fan, knew exactly who the person was when I mentioned it. He had his young daughter with him and he’s just waiting for us to get off the bus, and she’s got to be 3-4 years old or whatever and he’s holding her and every obscenity he can think of he’s tossing at us. And she’s like nodding her head and things like that. I remember Pete Vagenas got off the bus after me and said, ‘Good fathering,’ and just kept walking. That was about it. Obviously there’s a lot of intensity and a lot of pride at stake for sure.”