Saturday, October 2, 2010

SOUNDERS: Blaise On again

After losing to Toronto FC 2-0 back on April 25, the Sounders slipped into a rut. Over their next nine MLS matches, Seattle went 2-6-1 and was able to collect just seven of the 27 they played for. It looked very much like the team was on track to miss the playoffs after an outstanding inaugural performance in 2009.
Fast-forward six months and the Sounders (12-9-6, 42 points) are in a much better place points-wise and were looking to return the early-season favor by knocking Toronto (8-12-7, 31 points) out of the playoff picture.

    Only the top two teams from each conference automatically advance to the playoffs and Toronto would be out headed home if the playoffs began tomorrow, but Toronto came to Seattle hungry for points and trailing the pack in the MLS East, a dangerous combination at this point in the season.
    Dwayne De Rosario, the top goal scorer on the Canadian team (13 goals in 25 appearances, tied-2nd in the MLS), needed only sixteen minutes to silence the crowd at Qwest Field. After flying up the near side, De Rosario was just onsides as he received a pass from designated player Maicon Santos.
     With two Seattle defenders bearing down on him, De Rosario calmly poked the ball into the far corner of the goal from eight yards out, putting the visitors up 1-0. On the play, Seattle’s Jeff Parke dislocated a finger on his left hand, but returned to the game and ended up playing the whole 90 minutes.
    The 36,079 fans would not wait long for the Sounders’ equalizer. Less than five minutes later Osvaldo Alonso found Steve Zakuani with a well timed through ball. The second-year forward from the University of Akron deftly sidestepped Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who was off his line, and gently rolled the ball into the goal. Both Alonso and Parke earned an assist on the play, the first for Parke in over three years.
Neither team had finished scoring, but Seattle was on a roll. Five minutes after Zakuani found the net, Blaise Nkufo scored on a header from the top of the penalty box as he connected with a service from Nate Sturgis. Nkufo’s fifth goal in three consecutive games is the second longest scoring streak by a Sounder since Fredy Montero scored in five consecutive matches midway through Seattle’s 2009 campaign.
"It was important to comeback, especially before the second half because I think they scored on the first chance they had and it could be, for us, difficult,” said Nkufo.
“But we reacted very well as a team. It was a great pass off of [Osvaldo] Alonso and Steve [Zakuani] scored and after that I scored the 2-1. I think we showed a good character again."
    Good character has been a strong suit of the Sounders lately and they proved it in the second half. Instead of holding the ball and letting minutes tick off the clock in an effort to outlast Toronto, Seattle continued to fight and ended up with a third goal.
    Zakuani had just darted up the near sideline and chipped a cross into the box that, unfortunately, fell at the feet of Toronto defender Adrian Cann. Fortunately, Cann’s subsequent clearance was extremely poor.
The ball dropped at the top of the goal box, into the path of Sanna Nyassi who sent a left-footed shot past the goalkeeper. The goal was Nyassi’s first career MLS goal and put the Rave Green up 3-1 in the 59th minute.
"Since the first half, I felt that it was a team I could score against,” said Nyassi after the game.
“I should have scored at least two goals in the first half, but of course I wasn't able. When the second half came I made sure I took my chances."
    Toronto was able to claw back to 3-2 in the 88th minute when Chad Berrett followed a Nicholas Lindsay corner kick and converted it on a header past Seattle’s goalkeeper Kasey Keller, but by then the game was sealed. Seattle out-shot Toronto 17-8 (7-2 on goal), had more corner kicks (6-2) and fewer fouls (8-14). Saves by the keepers were equally lopsided, 0-4 in favor of Seattle.
    The most lopsided statistic of all, and the one that had the most effect on the game’s outcome, was yellow cards. For the first time in recent memory, Seattle played a full game without drawing the ire of the head referee while Toronto racked up two yellow cards for reckless tackles in the first half and added a third for unsporting behavior in the 63rd minute. In the end, putting the heat on Toronto’s defense was what won the game.
"We knew that in the backline that they don't have players with quality and that we should press them and make it difficult. I think that was the key,” said Nkufo.
“We pressured them, especially in the first half. That's why we came back in the game."
The most impressive aspect of Saturday’s game was the confidence Seattle has now. They gave up the early goal on some lax defending, but made up the difference in five minutes and ended up taking the lead only 10 minutes after De Rosario’s goal. The passing was better than in any game this year, crisp, controlled and accurate.
    Players expected to score (Nkufo and Zakuani) did just that and supporting players stepped up. Besides the Nyassi strike, Pat Ianni had a 35-yard shot that was eight inches over Toronto’s crossbar in the second half. Jeff Parke overcame physical injury to play a full 90 while midfielders Sturgis and Alonso both had assists.
As the Sounders continue to grow and mature as a team, the results seem to follow. The momentum is building at the perfect time for Seattle, just as it did for Real Salt Lake in 2009. With three MLS matches left to play, the Sounders need at least one win to reach Head Coach Sigi Schmid’s goal of 45 points by season’s end.
    Seattle’s next match is Tuesday when they defend their 2009 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship against the Columbus Crew. The game will be played at Qwest Field and has already broken the previous attendance record based on current ticket sales. Coach Schmid best summarized why the Open Cup is important to the Sounders.
“It's going to be a great game. It's going to be an exciting game. It's going to be a game that the fans don't want to miss, but it's also going to be a game between two good teams that are in form… Being at home the last week for us has been tremendous and we've got to continue to concentrate, focus, and play well. If we continue to get timely goals and we got a goal in that game off a corner kick, we had a goal today off a set piece so if we continue to do that it's going to continue to keep us in the forefront.”
    The Open Cup will be played at 7 p.m. in Seattle and will be broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel and 97.3 FM on your radio.

Unofficial Box Score
Toronto FC (8-12-7) vs. Seattle Sounders (12-9-6)
October 02, 2010 -- Qwest Field
Goals by Period 1 2 Tot
Toronto FC 1 1 2
Seattle Sounders 2 1 3

Scoring Summary:
TOR -- Dwayne De Rosario 13 (Maicon Santos 2) 16
SEA -- Steve Zakuani 9 (Osvaldo Alonso 3, Jeff Parke 1) 21
SEA -- Blaise Nkufo 5 (Nathan Sturgis 2) 26
SEA -- Sanna Nyassi 1 (unassisted) 59
TOR -- Chad Barrett 7 (Nicholas Lindsay 1, O'Brian White 4) 88

Toronto FC -- Stefan Frei, Dan Gargan, Adrian Cann, Nana Attakora (Nick Garcia 45), Ty Harden, Dwayne De Rosario, Julian de Guzman, Nick LaBrocca (O'Brian White 80), Jacob Peterson (Nicholas Lindsay 61), Maicon Santos, Chad Barrett.

Substitutes Not Used: Raivis Hscanovics, Fuad Ibrahim, Maksim Usanov, Jon Conway.

TOTAL SHOTS: 8 (Dwayne De Rosario 2, Jacob Peterson 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Chad Barrett 1, Dwayne De Rosario 1); FOULS: 14 (Maicon Santos 4); OFFSIDES: 1 (Maicon Santos 1); CORNER KICKS: 2 (Dwayne De Rosario 1, Nick LaBrocca 1); SAVES: 4 (Stefan Frei 4)

Seattle Sounders -- Kasey Keller, James Riley, Patrick Ianni, Jeff Parke, Leo Gonzalez, Sanna Nyassi (Alvaro Fernandez 68), Osvaldo Alonso, Nathan Sturgis, Steve Zakuani, Fredy Montero, Blaise Nkufo (Nate Jaqua 77).

Substitutes Not Used: Roger Levesque, Tyrone Marshall, Zach Scott, Mike Seamon, Kevin Guppy.

TOTAL SHOTS: 17 (3 tied with 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (Fredy Montero 2, Blaise Nkufo 2); FOULS: 8 (Osvaldo Alonso 2, Sanna Nyassi 2); OFFSIDES: 2 (Sanna Nyassi 1, James Riley 1); CORNER KICKS: 6 (Nathan Sturgis 4); SAVES: 0
Misconduct Summary:
TOR -- Chad Barrett (caution; Reckless Tackle) 25
TOR -- Dan Gargan (caution; Reckless Tackle) 34
TOR -- Maicon Santos (caution; Unsporting Behavior) 63
Referee: Mark Geiger
Referee's Assistants: -Cameron Blair; Frank Anderson
4th Official: Ramon Hernandez
Attendance: 36,079
Time of Game: 1:54
Weather: Cloudy-and-63-degrees

Reach Galen Helmgren at: