SEATTLE (CBS) – The Seattle Sounders MLS Cup title defense has officially begun.
Tuesday morning, with a large crowd of fans and supporters in attendance, the Sounders held their first training session of the 2017 season.
Just the first in a week of practices before heading to Arizona to play a pair of friendlies, the training session featured both familiar and new faces.
While not a complete shock, the presence of forward Clint Dempsey was a pleasant surprise. The Sounders Designated Player and former United States Men’s National Team forward had been out since last August after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.
While Dempsey was on the training field to end the 2016 season, his work was limited to jogging and separate conditioning.
That all seems to have turned a corner.
“We asked him to do a period of work individually in the offseason and he’s now progressed to a point where he is able to rejoin the team on a regular basis,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerway said.
While the Sounders are being cautious, the mere sight of seeing Dempsey playing in a practice-ending, small sided game was a positive.
“I think as a first step we gotta see how he does in preseason. We have a number of games, a number of mileposts along the way,” Lagerway said.
Other familiar faces at training included former players Steve Zakuani and Gonzalo Pineda.
Zakuani, who was the Sounders number one draft pick in their inaugural season, participated on the field in training, as he did at times during the latter stages of last season. The University of Akron product now works with the Sounders as a broadcast analyst.
Pineda recently joined the team as an assistant coach. The former Mexican international midfielder played with the Sounders from 2014 to 2015, the final club in his career before retiring.
Along with the likes of 2016 key pieces such as Osvaldo Alonso, Roman Torres, Joevin Jones and Stefan Frei (who is still dealing with an ankle injury sustained while with the national team), new additions to the 2017 roster were present.
Several trialists, Sounders academy, and Sounders 2 (USL) were seen training, as were newcomers Harry Shipp and Will Bruin, both acquired over the past few months through trades.
Shipp is a former Chicago Fire homegrown player who finished his first two season in the league with 10 goals and 15 assists. He was traded to Montreal last offseason, before being shipped to Seattle for allocation money this past Dec.
“The soccer culture in Seattle is great. Being here for a couple weeks and seeing all the Sounders’ stuff around the city, talking to some fans, it’s exciting to play out here,” Shipp said.
Bruin comes to Seattle after spending six years with the Houston Dynamo. Since 2011, Bruin has scored 57 goals across all competitions. However, the center forward had his least productive year in 2016, finishing with just four goals.
“I got maybe a little to comfortable there. I was ready to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself again,” Bruin said. “I think that’s when I play my best; when I’m uncomfortable and I’m on my toes and up for the challenge.”
The Sounders will practice the next few days before heading down south this Sunday for extended training camp in Tuscon. Seattle is scheduled to open competitive preseason play with a friendly against the Portland Timbers on Saturday, Jan. 4.