This isnt a namby-pamby, marketing-machine unbeaten streak for the Sounders.
The 6-0-3 run in the last nine MLS games, following Saturdays 4-3 win over Colorado, is legit. Not something boosted by semantics and draws. This is the most dangerous version of the Sounders since their MLS inception.
Four goals from four players Saturday, 18 over the nine matches. Theyre scoring more than Newt Gingrich.
Certainly more than the Mariners, though there is a mild baseball influence in the Sounders world. Mariners shortstop/forgotten man Jack Wilson was a high-end soccer player in his younger days. He had workouts at the Starfire Sports Complex, where the Sounders train, last year. Wilson practiced with the Sounders and was even set to fly to the MLS Cup last year had the Sounders made it.
Saturday, Fredy Montero left the locker room with a black bat and a glove from Wilson. Wilson went to the game with his wife and three kids, all in Sounders jerseys, before his nightly obligations at Safeco Field. He swapped a jersey, bat and glove with Montero for a jersey, ball and cleats.
Unlike his neighborhood brethren, Montero has been able to score of late. Saturdays diving header — his noggin a sparse few inches from the post — shoved the Sounders in front, 3-2, in the 82nd minute. He celebrated with a home-run swing off a fictitious Osvaldo Alonso pitch. That stemmed from Wilson’s Friday night text requesting the celebration from Montero.
“When he got the goal, I wasn’t even thinking about it, I was just pumped because went up 3-2,” Wilson said. “Then he did it. I was like, ‘No way.’ I was showing my wife and kids the text.”
Thats three goals in the past two matches for maligned Montero. Most telling for Montero was his trackback in the 87th minute to slide and deflect what could have been service into the box by Colorado. Despite that rat tail, he deserves credit.
But dont try to cheer up Sounders keeper Kasey Keller with any recounts of three points. The napping Sounders allowed a third goal in the 89th minute when unmarked Caleb Folan tapped in a rebound.
That was enough for Keller. Hell begrudgingly tolerate the mistakes that led to a goal in the first minute. The third goal resulted in furious gesticulations from Keller.
Moments after it rolled in, Keller sprang up. He screamed, flexed, screamed, flailed hands. He appeared to be reciting Samuel L. Jacksons lines from Pulp Fiction following Jackson being assigned to backseat brain retrieval. Superfly TNT, and such.
I think this is the least disciplined defensively we were all year, Keller fumed afterward. Thats a little frustrating because we cant let that creep into our game. You cant just expect to gift goals, to keep having to come back from behind, just keeping teams in the game.
You go 4-2 up and you let a guy wide open a couple different times for a corner at the end just to make it interesting. Have that discipline to see it out. Were just a little bit off that right now. If we can clean that up, but keep the same attacking flair weve shown, then weve got a good chance this year.
That last statement is whats at issue. Saturdays at-times chippy, retribution-free win over antagonistic Colorado vaulted the Sounders a point behind Los Angeles for the best record in MLS. But is this a Sounders squad that can move along in the playoffs, shedding two postseasons of disappointment?
The Sounders have been hot before, like July 11-Oct. 15 of last year, when they burned through a 9-1-3 stretch. It wasnt relevant in the playoffs. James Riley says theres something different about this group, this run.
Theres a calm about this team, Riley said. Veteran presence. Good teams just have to go through it. You cant teach experience, you kind of have to go through it.
Weve gone through it with Open Cup, league play, CONCACAF, things of that sort. I think the team is definitely much different. Weve shown the ability to come back from deficits, which I dont think weve done in the past. The ability to score goals in critical moments I think is key and not just put the burden on our goal scorers. So, I definitely think its a better team all around.
It would be that much better if injured Steve Zakuani wasnt reduced to spending his days rehabbing and telling pregame jokes in the locker room, as he did Saturday. After Colorados Brian Mullan snapped Zakuani’s leg with a harrowing tackle April 22, the season schedule was dialed up by many to see when Colorado would be trekking to Seattle.
Mullan was left home. Thoughts of him and Zakuani were not. The crowd twice chanted Zakuanis name during the match. The Rapids and Sounders chopped at each other throughout.
Thats another difference to Riley. This Sounders group is no longer deferential.
Colorado is definitely a physical team, and in years past I think weve been known to buckle under physical teams, Riley said. Were taking pride to combat that either with our skill and (to) be able to match that kind of intensity.
It appears the Sounders have a remedy for most ills presented by opposition. Though they will need to answer the most crucial question in the playoffs: Can they rule the Galaxy? If so, this could be the postseason the Sounders expect.
Yes, it was a special evening. And, yes, I could not help but wonder what the 2001 players and coaches were thinking up in the boxes as they were watching the latest incarnation of the team. How the Mariners were ever lucky enough to get hold of a Lou Piniella for ten years is beyond me, as I place him with Don James as the most impacting manager/coach/etc. in Seattle sports history. Sorry Chuck Knox, George Karl, Lenny Wilkins, and I am sure I am leaving someone else out. And, in the end, while the surface answer to what “saved” the Mariners is the 1995 season, the much deeper answer is Lou Piniella. He is the entire reason I stood on my tiptoes trying to get a glimpse of the introductions tonight. I knew they were saving the best for last.