SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders’ central defense could take on an Eastern tilt this season, with new goalkeeper Stefan Frei and center backs Chad Marshall and Jalil Anibaba all apparently in the running for starting roles.
All three offseason acquisitions played in the Eastern Conference last season: Marshall with Columbus, Anibaba with Chicago and Frei with Toronto.
Now with six weeks of training behind them, the newcomers say they don’t feel so new anymore.
“I feel like the new guys have integrated themselves very well with the guys that were here,” Marshall said. “And the guys that were here are very accepting of the new guys. I think it’s been pretty seamless.”
Marshall, Anibaba, and Frei all were in the starting lineup Saturday when the Sounders ended the
Carolina Challenge Cup with a 2-2 draw against D.C. United.
The Seattle defense allowed an average of 0.86 goals per game and had two shutouts through the three-game tournament and the six training friendlies that came before.
Marshall contributed not only on the back end, but also used his 6-foot-4 height on the attack to be dangerous in the air on set pieces.
“I always try to make good runs, be in good spots, and the guys … were serving great balls,” he said. “It would have been nice to get a goal, but hopefully it will come.”
Coach Sigi Schmid liked the potential weapon he saw in Marshall — especially because he said the team hadn’t worked much on set pieces through that part of training.
“That gives us some danger,” he said. “… As we work on that more from here to the start of the first regular-season game, I think that will be something that will become more dangerous for us.”
Anibaba played the final 135 minutes of the Sounders’ run in the Challenge Cup. And despite starting all 34 Major League Soccer matches with Chicago last season, he said he doesn’t know where he stands in Seattle’s center back competition, which also includes Marshall, returning veterans Djimi Traore and Zach Scott and rookie Damion Lowe.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the coaches to decide, and it’s up to us players to make those decisions as hard as possible,” he said. “I think we’re deep in the back, and that’s important for a long season.”
Frei started the final two games of the Challenge Cup after sharing goalkeeping duties for most of the preseason with veteran Marcus Hahnemann.
“The team, we’re jelling,” he said. “We’ve got really good chemistry of young, old, experienced, experience coming in new to the team. So it’s a really good mix. … Everybody comes out to try to improve on a daily basis. We’re going to have to maintain that throughout the year, and that’s going to bring us success.”
Seattle midfielder Alex Caskey was traded to D.C. United in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. Caskey, 25, made 30 appearances and 17 starts over the past two seasons, recording a goal and four assists. He was the Sounders’ third-round pick in the 2011 SuperDraft. … Schmid said 2013 first-round pick Eriq Zavaleta could be used as a center back while on loan to Chivas USA this season. Zavaleta bounced between center back and forward in his rookie season. … The Sounders’ fifth annual kickoff luncheon will be held today at CenturyLink Field. Information is available at SoundersFC.com. … The Sounders are off Wednesday. They will return to training today in preparation for their MLS opener at noon Saturday against Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field.