The Seattle Sounders finally earned their first win of the season. For that, they can thank their captain, Kasey Keller.
He was instrumental protecting Seattle’s lead, particularly in the second half, and that allowed his teammates to close out a 2-1 win over Chicago Fire Saturday afternoon in front of 36,223 fans at Qwest Field.
“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves in the second half, but we got some great saves,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Keller made some big time saves for us.”
The first time Keller came up huge was in the 59th minute, making a superb diving save to stop Diego Chaves from what would have been a certain goal to tie the game. Three minutes later, the Fire’s other Uruguayan forward, Gaston Puerari, forced another Keller reaction save that was top quality.
Keller closed out his highlight-reel saves when he denied Marco Pappa in the 66th minute.
Chaves, who scored Chicago’s lone goal in the second minute, was frustrated but also impressed by the former U.S. national team keeper. He was clearly the man of the match and had great interventions,” Chaves said. “He was the key for Seattles victory.
Keller wasn’t the only key. The Sounders started aggressively, swarming Chicago in the opening minutes. That culminated in O’Brian White’s second goal of the season in the 7th minute, a header from a Mauro Rosales pass.
Schmid thought White did well to contort his body in the air to get his head on the Rosales’ pass, which was a bit behind him. “He did a really good job, especially the first 45 minutes, shielding and holding up play for us,” Schmid said. “The 1-2 he hit with Zakuani was great.”
White said he was pleased, but felt the Sounders didn’t do really anything different than in previous matches — other than bury two chances. He said the players wanted this victory badly.
“We gave it all,” White said. “Today especially, we came out and gave everything. We decided we weren’t going to leave without the three points.”
Following the first goal, Seattle was clearly in control. It seemed more goals were coming but Chicago scored first. Chaves stunned the players and the crowd.
Chaves and Puerari were handfuls. The Uruguayans had obviously played together and seemed to know how the other moved. If one checked away, the other moved to the ball. They were skillful, speedy and dangerous.
So were White, Steve Zakuani, Rosales and Erik Friberg. In the first half, White took his game right at Chicago. The Jamaican was everywhere — hustling, chasing, making great runs, scoring and assisting on Seattle’s second goal in the 25th minute.
“The first was a ball played up by James (Riley),” White said. “He (Rosales) played a very good ball and I just put it in the back of the net. The second one was just Steve (Zakuani) going one on one. He made a move and he scored a great goal.”
White’s contribution was central. He checked to the ball on the left side as Zakuani started his run. White combined with Zakuani on a give-and-go, releasing Zakuani down the left side. He beat his defender, rounded the corner and slotted a left-footed shot into the net.
The first half ended with Seattle dominating the possession and the offensive statistics. The Sounders out-shot Chicago 6-4 and led the shots on goal 3-2. Seattle had four corners to none.
The tempo changed in the second half. Chicago picked it up and pushed Seattle hard, creating three outstanding chances that Keller denied to keep the Sounders in the match. Following the second save on Puerari’s low shot, the crowd started chanting, “Ka-sey Kel-ler.” It was well deserved.
“You can’t go through a season without having to rely on your keeper at some point and he kept us in the game in the second half, for sure,” Zakuani said. ” That’s Kasey Keller.”
the outcome remained in doubt, thanks to the cunning and craftiness of Chaves and Puerari, as well as Pappa and Patrick Nyarko. At least twice, Nyarko turned the corner on Riley with his speed down the left flank. He set up several dangerous chances late in the match.
Chicago’s more aggressive second half was reflected in several stats. It ended the game putting more shots on frame, 5-4, and forced Keller to make more saves, 4-2. Seattle committed more fouls (16-10), which probably reflected its desire to secure the three points at just about any cost.
Schmid sent out Nate Jaqua for a tiring Rosales. Then midfielder Servando Carrasco replaced White. By the 80th minute, it was all about managing and killing the game. Seattle hunkered down defensively and played out the match.
“The guys never stopped believing in themselves,” Schmid said. “Getting a win today, even though it was a little of an ugly win, is tremendous for their self confidence. Everybody played their part and everybody did their role.”