Normally it’s the Los Angeles Galaxy that has the stars and the scores. Wednesday night, they had nada and nil.
Stars and scores? Sounders FC had both.
Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero may lack the marquee power of David Beckham and Robbie Keane. But the Sounders’ striker tandem at least had the courtesy to show up at the Clink. And the audacity to show off.
Johnson drilled a header in the 40th minute, and Montero, shut out all season, boomed a bolt from 35 yards in the 48th minute to whack the Galaxy 2-0.
“In Europe, they call it your boogey team,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid of a nemesis opponent. “LA was that way for us a little.”
But the win might be seen by some as bearing an asterisk: Neither Beckham nor his fellow international star, Irishman Robbie Keane, bothered to leave LA for the match. Whether it was for reasons of fatigue or injury, the Galaxy was more like a solar system. Edson Buddle, another star, played less than a half, and American superstar Landon Donovan was curiously invisible for most of the game.
When the Galaxy is in a stretch of three games in eight days, Beckham, 37, is allowed the courtesy of taking the middle game off. His decision was probably aided by the fact that Seattle has artificial turf, which is harder on creakier legs.
But Schmid would have none of the asterisk conversation, even if it looked as if Galaxy coach Bruce Arena was putting out a junior varsity lineup.
“He put out a team he thought he could win with,” Schmid said. “Maybe he was thinking New York (LA’s opponent Saturday) was beat up and they can get three points at home.”
Asked if he took offense, Schmid said, “No, not at all.”
Defender Zach Scott put it more bluntly: “That’s their problem.”
Arena admitted he had had a bigger picture in mind.
I think its a difficult week with the travel and playing on this surface,” he said of holding back his stars. “We wanted to keep some players fresh for the game on Saturday. Thats the decision I made.
We didnt think we were going to be able to play 11 players in three games and we had to rotate some players. It made sense to me to have those players available on Saturday.
The Sounders had health problems of their own. Goalie Michael Gspurning aggravated an already sore right hip with his final kick of the first half, and was unable to play in the second half. So Bryan Meredith made his MLS debut and completed the clean sheet.
Gspurning said he didn’t think the injury was serious, but he didn’t quite know what it was, either.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “It was sore before, and a little bit of a risk for me to play in Chicago (the Sounders’ last game Saturday, a 2-1 win). So we didn’t want to risk more.
“It was good for Bryan to get in there. He did a good job.”
More intriguing for the 39,002 on hand was a glimpse into the future with the scoring tandem of Johnson and Montero.
Johnson scored in his second consecutive game by leaping for a splendid pass from midfielder Mauro Rosales. Despite being marked by pair of defenders, Johnson redirected the ball on a hop past goalie Bill Gaudette, who made several freakish saves before letting one past he should have had.
“Eddie is a good athlete,” Schmid said. “He provides the speed, but he can also get up in the air. Hes got some hops and hit a good header.”
Johnson, who played to the crowd as he celebrated his first home score, flashed his superior athleticism.
“I was just trying to play in between the two center backs,” he said. “It was a perfect cross, I just wanted to get my head on it, and redirect it. The pace was already with the ball. It was just a great ball by Mauro. It wasnt hard for me because the cross was so perfect.”
What was hard for Montero was . . . well, everything related to goal-scoring this season. Bad luck and bad shots continued to haunt him through the first half when, three minutes into the second, he suddenly unleashed from distance on the right flank, the ball just out of the reach of Gaudette and into the goal’s upper right corner. The Galaxy never seemed to recover.
The two points kept the Sounders record-fast start going at 5-1-1, while the Galaxy dropped to 3-4-1.
When you have an opportunity to shoot at that distance, you just try, you know?” Montero said. “Turns out that ball went into the net.
“I have to give the credit to my teammates because after those chances, the only thing they say is, Come on, its coming. Keep trying. The next one you have to put in. That was all I did.”
A score for each striker is the sort of outcome envisioned by the Sounders’ bosses when they made the somewhat controversial trade for Johnson, whose soaring career in the U.S. fizzled when he spent three years in the Premiership.
“I dont think its going to be the last time you see us play a game where both Johnson and Montero score in the same game,” Schmid said. “I think this is the first of a few that are going to go that way.
By the time the teams play again here Aug. 5, the pairing should be in full crank. By then, the Galaxy may deem it worthwhile to bring the A team.