For about six minutes in the first half, the Sounders, tied at 2, could say they were hanging with one of the best clubs in the world. Sorta.
The second half was an altogether different emotion — pure sentiment, as the crowd of 53,309 said farewell to retiring Roger Levesque and offered another hello to recovering Steve Zakuani.
Chelsea FC predictably won the friendly, 4-2. And Levesque, fittingly for the unconventional guy in the weird beard, did something odd.
He got in the way of his own team. And laughed about it immediately.
In the final moments, teammate Andy Rose had a clear shot with a header. But the ball glanced off Levesque and bounded harmlessly outside the near post.
Levesque, 31, needed no further evidence for the worthiness of his decision to retire and go to grad school at the University of Washington.
“Right about the time I blocked Andy’s header, kept it from going in, I was a little bit too old to get out of the way,” Levesque said, laughing. “I thought it was maybe the right time to hang ’em up.”
The goal would have meant nothing, but the inadvertent clank nevertheless created an indelible final moment for a guy who was never a star and never far from the hearts of Sounders fans.
“It’s a bittersweet evening,” said Adrian Hanauer, the Sounders GM and part-owner. “It was a celebration of soccer, yet it was sad to lose such an amazing part of the Sounders family. To not see his smiling face every day at training is going to be hard.”
Levesque attributed his popularity to merely having survived in the same place for nine years, including the last several in Seattle as part of the Major League Soccer iteration of the Sounders. The profession is always moving players up, down and overseas, particularly players like Levesque, overachievers who get by on guile instead of quicks.
But perseverance is its own reward. That was plain when, replacing Eddie Johnson, he entered the game in the 66th minute to a huge, sustained ovation. Thousands of fans held up printed placards with the same message: “Farewell Roger.” The Emerald City Supporters in the south end zone again displayed their witty artistry: They held large signs bearing no words, just a stylized, face-free image of Levesque’s trademark mustache and long, tousled hair, all in black.
Well played, all around.
So, for awhile, was the game. The first 11 minutes looked to be a disastrous repeat of the 7-0 whipping one year ago by Manchester United, when striker Romelu Lukaku and midfielder Eden Hazard made it for nine consecutive unanswered goals by the big boys from England.
But just when eyes had finished rolling, Fredy Montero responded in the 14th minute by stealing a poor clearance by Chelsea’s Josh McEachran and turning around at the top of the box to push a grounder into the net just beyond the reach of goalie Henrique Hilario.
Montero struck again in the 32nd minute, controlling a long, high cross from Mauro Rosales and punching it in from distance. The inevitable rout turned into a contest for the next little while. But the bigger, quicker, faster Blues, in their first exhibition since winning the European club championship May 19, restored order in the final five minutes of the first half with another goal by Lukaku, a tall, swift striker from Belgium, and Marko Marin, who scored off a redirection off Jeff Parke.
Good as was Chelsea, they were playing without a number of key players. Superstar Didier Drogba departed the club to play in Shanghai, captain and chief bad boy John Terry didn’t make the trip to Seattle, star goalie Petr Cech sat out, and much honored Frank Lampard played only in the second half.
As for the Sounders, Montero, who has struggled to score this season, was certainly happy enough to score, but said, “I wish those goals came in MLS.”
But that brought up some questions about his future, such as whether he imagined he might have a future in the EPL.
Yes, I would love to play there,” he said. “Im waiting for the right opportunity to come. Im ready to play in one of those leagues, I think so.
Asked why he thought he could cut it, he said, Well, because MLS is a league where we have something similar with Premier League. You always have tough defensive players and obviously every single day when you are in training, you know the tactics, you know the speed of the game, and I think thats the same in the Premier League.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said he would expect all players to aspire to the heights, and took no offense to Montero’s ambitions.
Good as he was Wednesday, he has a ways to go. Just as does the MLS. But everyone knows that, and each passing year comes the chance with these international friendlies to see if the gap closes a little.