They played with swagger for most of the night. And for about 60 of those minutes, the Sounders made a case for winning the MLS Cup.
Seattle simply disassembled the hapless Chivas USA. The usual sold-out throng of supporters witnessed the demolition on the final home match of the season that Sounders FC officials dubbed “fan appreciation” night.
Playoff opponents beware: the final score (2-1) spoke nothing of the way Seattle completely dominated Chivas USA. When they turned it on, Seattle left Chivas players jumping like nervous goats. Chivas could do nothing to stop the offensive onslaught.
The Sounders played with purpose. They craved more wins. They tasted the sweet elixir of more championship cups. They played in the zone when it mattered.
And that’s exactly what they need to do when they confront LA’s other, more glamorous MLS franchise — The Galaxy — in a likely Western Conference semi-final match-up. They need to ooze swagger.
Steve Zakuani knows swagger. His goal in the 9th minute of the Chivas USA match offered another telling example of swagger in motion. Receiving a through-ball from defender Jeff Parke, Zakuani beat two defenders in tight space, rounded a third lead-footed opponent, and then skirted Chivas keeper Zach Thorton to slot the ball into the net. That proved to be Zakuani’s 10th goal in MLS play.
Swagger turned up everywhere that night. Just like it does on the sun-baked pitches of Brazil. Osvaldo Alonso’s first goal of the season was all about swagger. Swagger extraordinaire Fredy Montero played a central role creating the goal — no surprise there.
In a fluid exchange of passes, Montero received and held the ball at the edge of the 18-yard box. He then dished a soft pass to an overlapping Zakuani gliding to the end line, but he cut the ball back to an onrushing Alonso, who was crashing the 18 yard box. Alonso floated the first time shot into the right corner of the net.
Such offensive swagger, executed in a real-time, flowing, mesmerizing display of attacking soccer, is what the Sounders will need to bring the MLS Cup to Seattle.
“Offensively, I think guys are getting in sync with each other and are playing with swagger,” said Jeff Parke, whose own interpretation of swagger led to his first assist on Zakuani’s goal. “It’s good to see. Guys are confident on the ball and they want the ball all the time.”
Let us not forget swagger comes in defensive forms, too. Alonso, Parke and James Riley have offered consistent examples of confident and aggressive ball-winning skills that put fear into their attacking opponents, or at least drain them of their own swagger. There is nothing worse for a striker than to be harassed, harried and stripped of the ball time and time again.
Of course, we have a special swagger category for Kasey Keller. No one knows swagger better than one of America’s all-time leading shot blockers. Enough said.
This swagger factor didn’t just happen overnight. Indeed. The first third of the season could be characterized as a lack of swagger, a lack of confidence, a lack of purpose. But if this surging confidence continues into the playoffs, it will cap a remarkable makeover for a team that struggled early on. Seattle, now 14-9-6, remains the hottest team in the MLS. It is riding a club record five-game winning streak (six games unbeaten) heading into the final game against Houston.
“We played good football and created some chances,” said Blaise Nkufo, a forward and Swiss international who knows something about swagger. “The team had a tough time in the first half of the season but the second half has been much better. Everybody realizes we have to play one and two touch.”
The star-studded Galaxy likely await in the playoffs, and swagger is its middle name. With the likes of David Beckham, only the world’s most popular and well-known soccer player; with Landon Donovan, only America’s greatest soccer player ever; and with Edson Buddle, who has tapped into the swagger gene pool of Beckham and Donovan to rip the back of the net 17 times to become the leading candidate to win the Golden Boot award. This is a team that is intimately familiar with swagger.
But now, so is Seattle. And that’s what it’s going to take to win the MLS Cup.