McClatchy News Service
TUKWILA — There were plenty of new faces Monday as Sounders FC opened training for the coming Major League Soccer season.
However, most attention was devoted to one player who was missing: Seattle career goals leader Fredy Montero, whose loan to Millonaires FC of Colombia was officially announced hours before the team took the practice pitch at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.
The official announcement of that long-expected move included one unexpected twist: Seattle signed Montero to a new multi-year contract extension before making the loan.
“There are two parts to that,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “A player’s transfer value is always related to the existing contract. So, Fredy only had two more years on his (previous) contract, so we just wanted to do it for that reason. And second, we see a world where Fredy could be back in Seattle; so we wanted to put ourselves in a position to have that happen some day, if it works out that way.”
With the opening of camp, however, the Sounders began preparing for their first season without Montero, who over four seasons with the club scored 47 goals — third most in the league over that span.
Hanauer left open the possibility of bringing in another designated player. But coach Sigi Schmid said he is ready to go forward with the personnel on hand.
“I feel confident that we can open the season with the people that we have here,” Schmid said. “We want to make sure that the guy we bring in is the right guy. We don’t want to feel ourselves with our backs against the wall — make a decision just to make a decision — and bring in the wrong guy, necessarily. So from that standpoint, we have enough confidence in what we have, but we’re also looking as well.”
Schmid cited Mauro Rosales, Steve Zakuani, David Estrada and Sammy Ochoa as returning veterans who could step into Montero’s forward spot alongside Eddie Johnson,
Zakuani said he reported to camp in the best shape of his career and is eager to help in almost any role, especially after enduring 11/2 seasons recovering from a broken leg.
“Fredy could produce things that nobody in the league could produce at times,” Zakuani said. “… But we’re used to it now, that every year you lose people. We’ve lost a lot of good players over the years. It’s the turnaround with a professional club, and it’s the way it is. We wish Fredy, of course, the best in his career. But we have to focus here in Seattle (on) who’s coming in and what we have right now and how to make it work for us.”
One candidate Schmid did not mention as a possible replacement for Montero was Eriq Zavaleta, the 10th overall SuperDraft pick who trained Monday as a center-back defender.
“He’s very calm on the ball, finds people and connects people,” Schmid said. “And the (one-on-one) defending is something you have to see in training, but he’s a versatile player. He can play up front. But at the end of the day — I said it after the draft — I think his long-term bigger upside is maybe as a central defender.”
After spending his first professional workout on the back line, the rookie from Indiana expressed his faith in Schmid and expressed willingness to play either position.
As camp begins, there are 25 players on the roster, while draft picks, trialists and invitees bring the total in camp to more than 40 players. A full list is available at blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer.
Those numbers will swell because Seattle has five picks in the MLS Supplemental Draft, which begins at 11 a.m. today.
“We still have our list that we went through the SuperDraft, so we’re kind of going to go off that list,” sporting director Chris Henderson said. “It might be positional, but if (we) go in order of who is left on our list, there is one or two guys that we hope could make the roster.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt