Sunday, July 18, 2010

SOUNDERS FC: Red card spoils Nkufo’s debut

At least this one didn’t count. Sunday’s match pitted the Sounders against the pride of Scotland, Celtic FC and with the luck Seattle has played with this season, the visiting team, predictably, won 2-1. Ignore the score for a minute and appreciate what did go well.

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Many of Seattle’s reserve players were able to log precious minutes and newly minted Sounder Blaise Nkufo made his debut in front of the home crowd. Back-up goalie Terry Boss saw some time before being red carded on a dubious foul in the box.

“The guy scored the goal and he could have let the goal count. He didn't have to go back and give the penalty,” said Sounders Head Coach Sigi Schmid. “I asked him where their communication was because normally the fourth official with the guy in the middle and the linesman as well […] they had no communication system. I said that'd be like us showing up without uniforms.”

Celtic Head Coach Neil Lennon agreed and suggested that the referee had already made up his mind to call the penalty.

The scoring was not over and Patrick McCourt put Celtic up 2-0 in the 64th minute. Seattle was quick on the counter-attack and David Estrada rifled a right-footed shot into the top corner of the net, beating Celtic keeper Dominic Cervi and drawing the Sounders to within one goal.

That’s how the game ended, but because this game was an international friendly, we can use it as a learning experience. So what can we take from this loss?

Reserve keeper Jordan Jennings, also making his first start as a Sounder, played commendably after filling in for Boss who was ejected via straight red card in the 32nd minute on a dubious foul in the box. Both coaches were puzzled by the red card and agreed that the goal should have been allowed.

Osvaldo Alonso and David Estrada look ready to jump back into league action. Estrada was just placed on the Injured Reserve and must sit out all MLS games until September 4, but Alonso certainly looks game ready, if a bit rusty.

Jhon Kennedy Hurtado was suited up for the match and while he probably won’t see any minutes for at least a few more weeks, it’s nice to see him back on the bench, perhaps a positive sign in his recovery from a torn ACL.

After Freddy Montero was pulled to make way for Jennings, Blaise Nkufo was the only forward on the field. He played well in this role, showing some moves and the kind of field vision that has been lacking for the Rave Green lately. Although he didn’t score a goal, he does add physical presence up top and will take some of the pressure off fellow strikers Montero and Nate Jaqua.

Yes, the Sounders dropped another game and, yes, this season is probably destined for the gutter, but there are positives to take from this. The work rate on defense is improving. Younger players are stepping up and taking shots while adding an energy and emotion missing from the first several weeks this season.

Despite having out roster turned upside-down the team is still coming to work every game and have a tiny, two-game unbeaten streak going in MLS play. It would have been nice to put on a good show for the home crowd, but in the end, a friendly match is for testing players, formations and set pieces.

Even after the final whistle this game didn’t feel like a loss. Too many positives came from this game to write it off as another loss. A week from now the Sounders will host the Colorado Rapids in a league match on July 25, followed three days later by their first CONCACAF match against El Salvador's Metapán.

Reach Galen Helmgren at