Should two straight shutout losses cause Seattle Sounders FC fans to rethink what they came to believe over those near-perfect first three weeks of this Major League Soccer season?
Prudent fans might want to locate the panic button and familiarize themselves with its operating instructions. But it’s too early to push it.
Those first three wins – vs. New York and Real Salt Lake and at Toronto – were pretty straightforward dominations by the team in rave green. The two losses could be mitigated in reasonable ways – mostly having to do with the loss of Kasey Keller, who still hasn’t allowed a goal over his 299-minute MLS career.
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Certainly, Keller’s red card was the key moment in the 1-0 home loss to the Wizards; partly due to his departure, but mostly due to playing a man down over the next 61 minutes.
However, the Sounders were back at full strength in their 2-0 loss at Chivas USA on Saturday; and you could use up at least one hand before finding a finger of blame to point at reserve keeper Chris Eylander.
Most would probably turn their first index finger in the direction of defender James Riley, whose sliding attempted clearance sent the game’s first goal into his own net.
However, that ignores all the blame that could be spread around on a defensive collapse that followed Sounders’ midfielder Freddie Ljungberg releasing his man on a give-and-go through the penalty area.
Significant as that goal was, the game may actually have turned earlier, when Fredy Montero faced a one-on-one with Chivas keeper Zach Thornton, who was caught in no-man’s land midway between the ball and the goal. Montero lofted the shot just right – just over the hopelessly out-of-position Thornton – but he sent it left of the goal, and the zero remained on the scoreboard.
“I know as a forward you think, ‘Maybe I could have hit the ball hard and low and slipped it past him,’ ” coach Sigi Schmid said. “But the main thing is, at that moment in the game, where we had a chance to go up 1-0, it changes the entire complexion of the game.”
So, oddly enough, there were the Freds – potential MLS Best XI (postseason all-league team) players Ljungberg and Montero – each with their fingerprints on two of the smoking guns that the Sounders used to shoot themselves in each foot.
“We started well and had a great chance with Fredy in the first half,” Ljungberg said. “Maybe on the first goal, we could have done a little better on the through ball that came in, and stuff like that. But that’s how it is.”
This is also how it is: the Sounders are 0-2 with Fredy and Freddie sharing the starting lineup.
The Sounders beat New York when Ljungberg was out with injury. They beat Real Salt Lake with Ljungberg coming off the bench in the second half. They won at Toronto with Montero home sick. And since the Freds have shared the starting lineup, which sent Steve Zakuani to the bench, the Sounders are winless and scoreless.
There can be no question that Ljungberg and Montero belong in the starting 11. But accommodating them – especially at the cost of Zakuani – seems to have unbalanced a chemistry that had been working magically.
“The cohesion ever since we put Montero and Ljungberg on the field together has suffered,” Schmid said after the game. “Early in the season, we played with two holding midfielders and our wide guys attacked. Now, we’re more of a diamond in the middle of the midfield, and we haven’t sorted out all our roles and responsibilities.”
For all that, the Sounders’ 3-2 start ties the 1998 Miami Fusion for the best expansion start through five games in MLS history. And the Sounders’ first month of play still offers more cause for celebration than panic.
But that could change this week.
The Sounders return home Saturday with Keller back in goal. Their opponent is the San Jose Earthquakes (1-2-2) a second-season expansion team that acts like one.
If the Sounders want to continue to be thought of as a different kind of expansion team, they need to come away with three points. And if they don’t, well, the directions are simple: Find the panic button and push.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808