Friday, September 10, 2010

SOUNDERS FC: Seattle holds Salt Lake to a draw

If the Seahawks are able to tie the New Orleans Saints twice in 2010, Pete Carroll will be called a mastermind for guiding what is essentially a brand new team just two years outside the Holmgren Era to play on equal footing with the best in the NFL. On Thursday night at Qwest Field, the Seattle Sounders, a second year team in the MLS, accomplished basically the same feat as they earned their second draw against reigning champions, Real Salt Lake.

The Sounders didn’t exactly put on a clinic for the crowd of 36,078 (29th consecutive sellout), but for the first 30 minutes of the game, they forced Real to playing defense. Salt Lake would enter the Sounders’ backfield only to be turned back by a tenacious defensive line. The visitor’s only real chance to score was on a penalty kick conceded by Seattle defender Jeff Parke half an hour into the match.

"It was a good play by him [Robbie Findley] and a dumb play by me,” said Parke of the foul.

“I shouldn't have lunged in like that. I should've just kept him outside and my mistake."

Parke was exonerated by Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller who dove to his right to block the low shot by Findley, a crucial save that kept the Sounders from throwing in the towel. Incidentally, the save was Keller’s first in his MLS career. The veteran also added a second save in the 61st minute.

As the game wore on, Seattle Head Coach Sigi Schmid used all three substitutions as he adjusted for missing players like Blaise Nkufo and James Riley. Sanna Nyassi and Mike Seamon were inserted in the midfield for Alvaro Fernandez and Nate Sturgis while Mike Fucito replaced Nate Jaqua up top.

Seattle lead Salt Lake in total shots 10-7 (2-2 on goal) and on corner-kicks, 6-2, but none of the substitutes could earn the tie-breaking goal. As the final whistle blew, the score remained 0-0, but there is an upside to the unfortunate outcome.

The ability to play on the same level as the league’s top teams shows that the maturity of the Sounders has increased during their sophomore season. Despite suffering a forgettable 3-1 loss to New England just five days ago, Seattle was able to bounce back and hold back the hottest offense in the league.

The draw moves the Sounders (9-9-6) into sole possession of fifth place while Real (12-4-8, 44 points) moves into a tie with the L.A. Galaxy for first place in the Western Conference. In their last 11 MLS matches, Seattle has lost only one game (7-1-3) and is undefeated in their last five against Western Conference opponents with Thursday’s draw maintaining their winning percentage all-time against Real (2-1-2).

Schmid was grudgingly pleased about not losing against Salt Lake, but had plenty to say when asked what his team could improve on.

"I think we battled and we fought, but I don't think we played great soccer tonight so it was a little disappointing from that regard because I know we have more in us. For whatever reason all of our passing was disjointed and we didn't click in that regard. I'm still proud of the fact that we've played what's probably the best team in the league twice now and have tied them twice. But I know we're capable of better soccer and I don't think we played as well tonight as we could have."

Keller, who was announced as the Man-of-the-Match after the game, summarized the Sounders’ state-of-affairs in a post-game interview.

“We are doing OK. We are frustrated. Sure. We want to win every time we step on this field. But people have to understand that teams are going to come here and really make it difficult for us because they respect what we have done here and what this crowd is like. Like I said, we could've gotten a little more today but it's definitely not the end of the world."

Seattle plays its next four games on the road in three different countries. The 12 day trip starts with a CONCACAF Champions League contest against Costa Rica's CD Saprissa on September 14. Four days later, Seattle will play the Columbus Crew in Ohio, pack up for another CONCACAF game versus Monterrey in Mexico on the 22nd before reuniting with Freddie Ljungberg in Chicago on September 25.

Reach Galen Helmgren at