No place like home

There is no place in Major League Soccer like Qwest Field on a gameday. The Sounders FC were reminded of that on Tuesday when they made their first appearance at Qwest Field for the 2010 season.

“It’s great. Obviously the last time we were here we didn’t get the result that we wanted in our last game against Houston. So, it’s got that memory, but it’s also got the memory of the opening game and a lot of the good accomplishments we had all last season,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Every time you walk in here, even though the seats are blue, I see green everywhere. It just reminds me that we are about to embark on the season. I think it’s a good reminder for the players that the season is around the corner.”

The Sounders and their fans will have a chance to break in the stadium for the 2010 season on Thursday when Seattle faces their old rivals to the south, the Portland Timbers of the USL, in the Community Shield preseason match benefitting the Sounders FC four charity partners.

While the defense has been solid, going 293 scoreless minutes since allowing their last preseason goal, the offense has been inconsistent. However, Schmid understands what it takes to get Freddie Ljungberg, Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani going on the offensive end while they wait for the return of Nate Jaqua, who has missed most of the preseason due to injury.

“Obviously we are a team that is built around quickness and speed, especially on the offensive part of field. The essence of our game with Ljungberg, Montero and Zakuani and people like that is their ability to get isolated and use their quickness and use their individual skills and abilities to create space and make plays that way,” Schmid said. “When things are going well for us it means the ball is moving quickly and it means we are getting the ball early to our front runners and giving them some time and space to take people on.”

That cohesion looked promising in Spain when the Sounders topped Norwegian clubs Stabaek and Brann 2-0 and 1-0, respectively. However, it wasn’t quite as prevalent in a scoreless draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Saturday.

“I think we can improve on a lot of things. We had a good combination up in Vancouver. We came behind them very well,” Ljungberg said. “But what we need more and what I said all preseason is we don’t trust each other enough and that’s something we need to work on. Today Sigi tried to work a little bit on the triangle in the middle to get one guy open and then we can use the speed we have on our team.”

While the combinations have been a work in progress, the Sounders have built the fitness for which Schmid hoped while training in Arizona and Spain. He too, though, points out the need for a better on-field understanding.

“In terms of our attacking rhythm and play with the ball I want that to get better, but I think we are also making strides in that direction and I expect it to be better when we play on Thursday and then better again when we play in Colorado,” Schmid said. “I think we are getting our understanding down and our sense of how to play with each other.”

The club returns most of their 2009 squad, although they have had to shuffle the lineup around a bit. Along with a few injuries, James Riley won’t be eligible to play the season opener March 25 against the Philadelphia Union as he will be serving a one-game suspension after receiving a red card in Seattle’s 1-0 playoff loss in Houston.

That has meant extra playing time for players who have typically played in a reserve role, but also masks some of the familiarity that is implied by the return of 11 starters.

Three of the Sounders injured players, Brad Evans, Patrick Ianni and Roger Levesque, returned to the field Tuesday, adding depth to the training sessions and competition for playing time.

“It’s good obviously to get those guys back in,” Schmid said. “We have been a little cautious with Evans because of the type of injury it was. He probably didn’t need to get held out as long as we did but he’s back. Ianni looks like he is full-throttle. And Roger getting back in there is a big plus for us. It gives us more options and also when you get more options you get more competition and then everybody’s game picks up a little bit.”

The hope is that more players can be reinserted into regular rotations, the cohesion will build and goals will be the result. If nothing else, they are looking for better results than the 0-0 draw with Vancouver when the Timbers come to town.

“Our touch seemed a little off,” Ljungberg said of the Vancouver game. “We want to continue to be solid defensively and have better ball movement offensively.”