After losing 1-0 in a surprisingly listless effort for a home opener against an ordinary Montreal outfit, the Sounders might be tempted to demand that owner Joe Roth throw an extra $1 million in the pot to get that hot-shot Nigerian striker, Obafemi Martins, on a plane to Seattle.
But that would be unjustified, since a good chunk of the current team was unavailable Saturday night, and those who did play seemed to think it was still a preseason lollygag. It wasn’t Martins’ problem to solve.
“Very disappointing,” said midfielder Steve Zakuani, who returned to the starting lineup. “You don’t want to over-react and panic over one game. But we didn’t play well. The energy wasn’t where it needs to be.
“For a long season, it’s hard to bring it every night, But it was opening night. We didn’t do that. It hurts.”
Given the unsettled roster that the Sounders trotted out for the 38,998 standing in the Clink’s cold and damp, a disjointed start wasn’t much of a surprise. Three of last season’s starters — Fredy Montero, Jeff Parke and Christian Tiffert — were long gone from the scene. Ozzie Alonso and Marc Burch were serving suspensions. Absent because of injuries were Patrick Ianni, Adam Johansson and David Estrada. Two late newcomers, Shalrie Joseph and Djimi Traore, didn’t play.
And returning local favorite Lamar Neagle sat out because it was a condition of his trade from Montreal. Only the Sounders didn’t deem it worthy to tell the public before the game, just another little tic that keeps MLS a second-tier operation.
The excuses for a loss were there. The reasons for not finding an effective forward gear remained elusive.
“Anytime you get slapped in the face like this in a game, hopefully you rise from it and you become a little more determined and motivated . . . a little more focused,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “We didn’t play (in the first half) with the energy that we played with in the second half. We need to make sure we bring that energy from the beginning. (The slow start) may be a little bit from when you have a good preseason, you’re maybe a little complacent.”
The Sounders weren’t without some frenzy and near-misses; they led in attempts on goal 15-9 and and time of possession, 59 percent to 41. But the scramble-fest turned out to be no match for the goofy bloop of a goal in the 35th minute by Montreal’s Davy Arnaud, who drew goalkeeper Michael Gspurning off his line and lofted a nine-iron chip just over the 6-foot-6 goalie’s hands.
“Perfect goal,” Gspurning said. “Credit to him, getting it over me.”
One undeniable Seattle highlight was the debut of rookie defender DeAndre Yedlin in the starting lineup — at 19, the second-youngest starter in the Sounders’ five-year history. Not only is he a Seattle kid (O’Dea High School) and the first homegrown talent to be signed out of the Sounders’ academy, his hairstyle alone will put him atop the Seattle sports pop-culture ladder.
Long and reddish-blond on top, dark and short on the the sides, Yedlin’s head appeared pounced upon by a furry woodland creature. But underneath the hair-strionics was a fast, quick player of obvious substantial potential. Given the absences of Burch, Johansson and Ianni along the back line, Schmid had little choice but to start the kid — and got away with it.
“For a young man making his debut at home there could have been a lot of pressure,” Schmid said. “He could have not handled that well, but I thought he handled it well. I thought he played well.”
Yedlin flashed great skill in a sliding tackle, and bailed out Gspurning, knocked down in goal, wtih a blocked shot on goal. He also had a decent chance at a goal in the 50th minute, but his lunge at a header off a cross in front of the goal was, rather unbelievably, a hair short.
“It was good to get a game under my belt, to get a start and some experience,” he said. “I just tried to relax, and I think I did all right.”
Yedlin, at least, played to the moment. His more veteran teammates were not ready to start the season.