Finally, the goals came. Finally, opportunities created were opportunities earned. Finally, the Seattle Sounders took out their frustrations — several games of lackluster offensive output–on a rookie keeper and a disoriented New England Revolution defense.
Finally, the Sounders not only scored but they did so with intent, with panache, with aplomb. Finally, the Sounders got what they deserved — an emphatic 3-0 victory over a listless and uninspired Revolution.
Credit to the Sounders. From the opening whistle, the green and blue attacked wave after wave, knowing that nothing but a victory would satisfy the weeks of a parched goal-scoring drought, knowing that only three points would keep them in the hunt and keep them out of the Western Conference cellar.
“We talked about making sure that we get behind the defense a little more often, a little quicker, make them play in their end of the field and that would help us in terms of getting our crowd and putting the pressure on them and turning this into a home field,’ Coach Sigi Schmid said.
Seattle’s intent was underscored five minutes into the match. Left back Leo Gonzalez unleashed a thundering strike from the top of 18-yard box after overlapping down the left side of the pitch and receiving a pass from Fredy Montero. Gonzalez dished the ball to Steve Zakuani surrounded by Revolution defenders, who tapped it back to Gonzalez, and he ripped the ball into the upper right hand corner of the net, sending 36,344 Sounders supporters into early delirium.
“It was nice to get some goals, tremendous first goal by Leo Gonzalez – that was a wonder strike, a tremendous strike on goal,’ Schmid said. “Zakuani as well, a very well hit ball. Montero a good combination that put him in. I thought the soccer we played was good.”
As the warm summer evening wore on, delirium turned into ecstasy and ecstasy turned into rapture. It was that kind of night. The Sounders could do little wrong. And New England did nothing right. “We played good, attacking soccer,” Schmid said. “This is a step in the right direction. The change of formation was key.”
Indeed. Seattle outshot New England 19-2 and took 10 corner kicks compared to the Revolutions’ four. Seattle’s three first-half goals is a team record.
Schmid discarded the 4-3-3 and opted for a 4-4-2, a more direct, attacking formation. He put Freddie Ljungberg wide right, Zakuani on the left, and inserted Pat Noonan as the second forward to support Montero. Brad Evans and Patrick Ianni anchored the center of the midfield. The formation change had an immediate effect. Ljungberg threatened every time he touched the ball, stretching the defense which in turn created space in the middle for Montero to penetrate and spread the ball wide or play it short to Noonan, his new attack partner.
“By going with two strikers there, and I thought Noonan is another one who had an outstanding game tonight, we’re a tough team because you have Zakuani on one flank and Ljungberg on the other, that’s going to make you concerned a little bit and then you’ve got two forwards up front that they can serve the ball to,” Schmid said. “When balls got put in the box, we had people there, we had numbers there.”
Schmid also told his players to play more direct.From the opening kickoff, Schmidt wanted the forwards and outside midfielders to get behind New England’s defense and test the rookie keeper, Bobby Shuttleworth, early.
Mission accomplished. Seattle’s second goal came in the 24th minute. Montero threw in the ball to Evans near the left side of New England’s 18-yard box. He flicked the ball into the air with the outside of his right foot and it fell to the lethal right foot of Zakuani, just inside the the box. He unleashed a picture-perfect volley for Seattle’s second goal. Montero, who was active and lively all night, grabbed the third goal in the 42nd minute. He received a volley from Noonan, controled it in traffic, dribbled across the top of the box, faked a shot then took another touch and unleashed a low skidding blast that slipped underneath the Revolution keeper.
It was that kind of evening, an evening that Sounders supporters had been expecting for some time during the recent goal-scoring drought that had turned into unexpected losses at home. It was the kind of evening where Seattle’s relentless attack and its belief in playing attacking, entertaining soccer finally paid off. It was the kind of evening, as Schmid noted, where “everybody played their roles tonight.”
Gonzalez, especially, had a memorable night. Not only did he set the tone early with his first goal of the year, but he manhandled the Revolution’s very dangerous winger, Sainey Nyassi, often winning tackles that led to quick attacking transitions down the left side. Gonzalez was named Man of the Match. “I thought he (Gonzalez) defended Nyassi well,” Schmid said. “He deals with quick players pretty well. He steals balls and sets himself up for good forward runs.”
The defense overall was solid, allowing only two shots on Kasey Keller all night. He had to make only one save that proved to be problematic and required him to make an acrobatic punch to clear the ball out of the box. And while Seattle scored no goals in the second half, the players continued to create dangerous opportunities and dominated the run of play.
As Seattle wore down a dispirited New England, Ljungberg began to assert himself more and more. The former Swedish international literally controlled the game, dishing clever give-and-go passes, switching the field, lofting pin-perfect diagonal passes to teammates. His second-half performance was a masterful display of sublime technique combine with a sophisticated soccer mind. “I thought Freddie Ljungberg wide right was outstanding, creating numerous opportunities for us,” Schmid said.
So, Seattle finally stepped up when it mattered most and scored some goals. Schmidt may have found a combination of players and a formation that might finally reward the team with the results that have been lacking so far. Finally, Seattle can redeem its early season blahs, and if it wins its next game against DC United on Thursday, head into the mini-break with back-to-back wins and the all-important momentum.
Said Keller: “ I’m happy obviously for the fans and ownership and the players because this is what we have been working hard to turn. We know we have another game on Thursday that we are more than capable of winning as well. What a great way to go into the mini-break with six points. So it’s halftime for me. Second half starts against D.C. United.”
Finally, Seattle’s scoring touch appears to be back. And the Sounder faithful can dream again.