After losing MLS First Kick last Tuesday, 1-0 to LA Galaxy, a good Sounders friend said, “hey, 33 more matches to go, with a total possible of 99 points. Up Sounders”. One thing Seattle fans are always good for is seeing sunny possibilities from dreary results. When your NFL team is the first to have a losing record in winning its division, then knocks out the defending Super Bowl champions, it’s fair to say you live someplace where people work hard to find the emerald on a cloudy day. The 1995 Mariners slogan “Refuse to Lose” seems technologically, if not socially engineered into our Pacific Northwest makeup. Up Sounders indeed!
On to Harrison, New Jersey.
Saturday, March 19th, not even one week into the new MLS season and we are off to the Big Apple for the New York Red Bulls home opener. Thiery Henry, the French superstar and Arsenal icon will be starting his first full MLS season. He wears a bullseye on him larger than the one Sounders FC wears as a franchise. if he fails, then who else would come to MLS from abroad? It may not be as harsh as that, but to US soccer starved faithful, and a surrounding critical sports culture it feels that way. More people say they would watch MLS if there were more good stars. There are few names that carry the iconic wight of Henry. The Sounders just faced two others, with Beckham and Donovan, in last Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to LA. The Red Bulls feel pressure to “Win Now” same as Sounders FC. With their home secure in Harrison, New Jersey and second season in their beautiful new soccer only stadium, they have a need to win now. Especially since Major League Soccer has made it clear they want the 20th MLS club, after #19 Montreal in 2012, to be the former NASL, New York Cosmos. A championship would help carve out their longtime niche, in that global supermarket sports city. Big Apple teams flow by the dozens, so a golden season would be delicious.
Oh come on, I had to. You know you’re laughing. You’d have done the same. I mean this isn’t the New York Times. Give me that one.
OK, apple puns aside, what can be said about an early season match like this? Blaise Nkufo is gone! Barely an hour prior to the
home opener vs LA, the Sounders and Blaise Nkufo parted ways. How his DP (Designated Player) status equates to value is not fully known yet. Mauro Rosales, the best Sounders last name yet, was picked up from Argentina last week. He was wearing #10 in practice, meaning his skill is clearly on par with current starters. When Sigi brings him in he will most likely play a central attacking midfielder role helping to set up strikers and wingers for more goals. His bio includes time on classic Dutch side, Ajax, and recently with Argentina’s, River Plate. He was also part of the Argentina Olympic Team in 2004.
Preseason injuries to Nate Jaqua, Brad Evans, and Michael Fucito continue to linger. So the departure of Nkufo and addition of Rosales adds more questions than answers. Rosales did trial with Sounders FC during preseason, but has little game experience with them.
What I see from this still young, third year team, is a sense of not being shaken. They want goals bad, but they haven’t lost their poise. After literally absorbing Tuesday’s drenched loss, I watched the match again. Seattle held better possession, attacked more, created more chances and outshot LA. The loss was more about missing close chances than being outplayed. The goal
Sounders gave up to Juninho was defendable. Slow reaction. An issue? Yes. It would have been negated had, O’Brien White finished off his sitter, (a sure goal) or Eric Friberg hit the inside of the goal post instead of the outside. Those shots will come. Freddy Montero was unlucky as Josh Saunders stole his goal with the save of the match. Josh Saunders, LA’s replacement keeper ended up the rightful “man of the match”.
Continuing to attack in the manner they did Tuesday and create more of the same opportunistic chances, while defensively closing down better may give Sounders FC a surprise chance to overtake New York in its home opener. Time will tell how the season plays out. Early season challenges mount. Hopefully Sounders FC meets these challenges head on, just like 36,000 rain-soaked fans did on opening night. Seeing the proud emerald through the foggy haze is what this city is good at. Hopefully Sounders FC will continue to represent.