A much anticipated clash with Chicago and Freddie Ljungberg generated predictable boos every time the Sounders first designated player touched the ball. It generated the usual litany of complaints from the former Sounder and Arsenal superstar whenever a Sounder touched him. And it generated a predictable stellar performance from the other Freddie — Fredy Montero, who scored both goals, including the dramatic winner in stoppage time.
“We’re very happy with the result,” Coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s such an outstanding feeling to score the second goal (in stoppage time).”
Ljungberg, who left Seattle during the mid-season transfer in a controversial move, was tightly marked and posed little threat to Seattle’s defense. He played in the center as a withdrawn forward. He gave a pedestrian effort in line with the expectations of an average MLS player salary rather than the $1.5 million he receives as a designated player.
Still, his departure has given Seattle a new life. The team, now molded around Montero, has been unbeaten in seven MLS matches and faced a Fire team that had been unbeaten in three matches until losing last week 4-3 to Houston and then to Seattle, 2-1. Both teams are fighting for a playoff berth and so the significance of the match went beyond Ljungberg’s return despite all of the pre-match hype.
Chicago grabbed the first goal in the 28th minute — a penalty kick after the referee ruled that defender Jeff Parke touched the ball. The call was questionable at best and it went against the run of play. Chicago’s John Thorrington slotted the ball into the back of the net. The momentum shifted to the Fire and it seemed Seattle could not penetrate Chicago’s defense.
But Seattle’s Tyson Wahl brought the Sounders back into the match. He lofted a long, left-footed ball from his defensive half to a streaking Fredy Montero in the center of the pitch. Montero beat his defender and scored in the 36 minute. Wahl’s early ball to Montero caught the defense napping.
Seattle dominated the second half. With Montero in the center of the action, Seattle pushed the ball to Sanna Nyassi, who took the ball down the right flank, or they switched it to the left and to the nuanced feet of new DP Alvaro Fernandez. Both wide midfielders gave Chicago’s defense trouble on the flanks, penetrating deeply and sending crosses into the box. Later, Schmid sent in Steve Zakuani for Nyassi and the fleet-footed Zakuani stretched the Chicago defense with his penetrating runs.
But the Fire defense — led by the always-tough CJ Johnson — stayed compact in the box. Few shots troubled Chicago keeper Sean Johnson. Seattle couldn’t break down Chicago’s defense despite the effort. Chicago cleared anything that entered the box. But in the 92 minute, with Seattle pressing and time expiring, midfield Nathan Sturgis saw Montero open on the right edge of Chicago’s 18-yard box and lobbed the ball to Montero. He headed the ball into the net, sending 36,000 delirious fans into rapture as well as keeping Seattle’s playoff hopes alive.
And when the referee blew the final whistle, Montero left no doubt about which Fredy rules the Sounders.