Two slip-ups undid the Sounders at the Clink in a 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City Sunday; one mental, the other literal. First, Oniel Fisher received a red card in the 41st minute for a foolish two-footed challenge on Kansas City’s Connor Hallisey. Then, keeper Stefan Frei let a long shot slip past his grip in wet conditions, causing the short-handed Sounders to drop their season opener. It was reminiscent of Bill Murray stumbling off the curb in “Groundhog Day”—watch out for that first step, it’s a doozy.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said the day was one for forgetting.
“I don’t want to remember this one very long,” said Schmid. “It’s the start for us, it’s the beginning, there are 33 games left . . . Journeys aren’t always easy . . . this journey started off a little rocky. We just have to get back on the road, and push forward.
“I know that sounds like clichés and all the BS, but you’ve got to continue to work. You learn more from the little setbacks, and you grow more.”
A series of promising offensive chances kept Seattle from falling flat on its face, including a pair off shots that clanged off the crossbar above SKC keeper Tim Melia’s head, but Seattle was unable to find the back of the net.
Fisher’s red came after a series of escalating tackles on both sides of a match filled with stiff-arms, shoulder checks and shoves. As the clock crept towards halftime, the ball came to the feet of Hallisey in the left alley. Fisher made a slow tackle towards the ball, leading with both feet. Hallisey was uninjured by the tackle, but referee Alan Kelly followed the rules, showing Fisher the red for dangerous play.
Early in the second half, Seattle’s schizophrenic weather reared up and a torrential deluge cascaded into the stadium, soaking the players and turf.
The wetness helped the visitors in the 73rd minute, when Sporting’s center back Nuno Andrew Cuelho took a long rolling shot from more than 30 yards out. The ball skipped unexpectedly off the turf and into the net. Frei, diving to his right, was in front of the shot, but it rolled underneath his tucked arm.
“Obviously, a big error on my part,” said Frei. “Such is the life of a goalkeeper. You make a mistake, and the whole team pays for it.
“I saw the ball coming from the right, and it had a bit of a bend, maybe it didn’t bounce as high as I thought it was going to, but I’ve got to save that . . . no excuses.”
Schmid said the offense needed to improve, citing the necessity for more support from the midfield when the ball reached forwards Clint Dempsey and Nelson Valdez, who often received the ball with their backs to the goals and three defenders waiting to pounce. In a telling moment, Osvaldo Alonso broke free on the right sideline in the first half, but had no one inside to play the ball to. Alonso raised his arms in a sprinting shrug, as if to ask if anyone was going to get open.
Not all of the Sounders avoided falling on their faces. In the 88th minute, captain Brad Evans contested a header with Dom Dwyer, but tumbled over Dwyer and landed with his full weight on his left shoulder. Evans was immediately removed from the game.
“I haven’t seen the replay, but it looked like he got undercut,” said Schmid. “Some players are very good at undercutting defenders, and don’t get called for it.”
Schmid went on to say that while Evans’ shoulder had apparently dislocated, it had been set and the 30-year-old could play at Real Salt Lake Saturday (1 p.m., JoeTV). Evans was the only Sounder injured during the match, but the Sounders were hurting before kickoff.
Midfielder Erik Friberg sat with a concussion. Fisher was starting in place of an injured Tyrone Mears, recovering from a quad strain but may also be fit for the match at Rio Tinto Stadium. Missing also is center back Román Torres, still recovering from an ACL tear sustained in September.
For a team hoping desperately to avoid the same injury woes that derailed its season last summer, the Sounders are already testing their depth. The race to get Mears healthy will be exacerbated by Fisher’s mandatory one-game suspension for his ejection.
As Schmid said, there are 33 games left for the Sounders to recover. It’s a good thing for them; much recovery is already needed.