BRADENTON -- They pack every home match, even though they haven’t been in the league that long.
They’ve made the Major League Soccer playoffs in their first two seasons.
And they’re preparing for their third season right here in Bradenton.
The Seattle Sounders FC spent Friday training at IMG Academy, where they’ll play a preseason match today against the Chicago Fire. The 2 p.m. game is free, and there is no charge for parking, Sounders FC communications assistant Mike Ferris said.
Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid, who led the Columbus Crew to victory in the 2008 MLS Cup, said IMG’s facilities helped draw the Sounders to the Gulf Coast.
“We already spent time in Arizona, and we didn’t want to go back to the same location,” Schmid said. “We knew we’d get an opportunity to play a couple games, because some other teams would be in the area. And we had heard that all the new fields they had put in were very good.”
The Sounders finished 14-10-6 last season and fell in the Western Conference semifinals to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The most decorated Sounder is goalkeeper Kasey Keller, the former U.S. Men’s National Team keeper.
He plans to retire after this season. So 2011 is his last hurrah.
The Sounders have a couple rookie goalkeepers in Bryan Meredith and Josh Ford, who Keller said have progressed well.
“They have come in and stepped into training and stepped into games, and they have earned the respect of the other players,” said Keller in response to e-mailed questions. “That’s a very key thing for goalkeepers. If you can gain players’ trust behind you, coaches see that and players talk and I think they’ve done a very good job.”
Adrian Hanauer is a co-owner of the franchise with “Price is Right” host Drew Carey, Hollywood producer Joe Roth and Seattle Seahawks chairman Paul Allen.
Hanauer also serves as the Sounders’ general manager.
He said Seattle’s vast fan support since entering MLS harkens to the club’s historical presence in the Pacific Northwest.
“Seattle always was a soccer town, so we were fortunate to be able to trade off the hard work of a lot of people that came before us,” Hanauer said. “The original North American Soccer League was really successful there from a fan basis. And then the soccer market has been very strong there. It’s continued to evolve over the years.”
Colombian native Fredy Montero scored 12 goals last season to lead the club.
His ball skills and penchant for finding twine was enough for the Sounders to get the forward to sign an extension and label him as a designated player.
“For me, it’s not different. I think we are working hard,” Montero said via e-mail about being a designated player. “We are looking forward to having a good start with the team, so DP is just outside of the field with the people, with the fans.”
Montero said he enjoys the weather and sun down here.
“I’m comfortable with this weather,” he said. “For 21 years, I was playing in Colombia with this weather so I don’t care if I have to live in Seattle where it’s raining every day.”
The Sounders will begin their MLS regular season March 15, but in the meantime, preseason action is available for local soccer fans to check out at IMG Academy before the Sounders head back to Seattle.