Clubs from different sides of the ocean and different levels of the soccer world met Saturday at Qwest Field and each learned something.
Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Seattle taught the Sounders that English Premier League teams pick their spots with precision and make you pay for mistakes.
But the appreciative and festive atmosphere at Qwest Field showed the visitors that there is more of a taste for soccer in this country than they might have imagined. The crowd of 65,289 was the largest ever to watch a Sounders game and the third-largest ever to watch a soccer match in Washington.
Between what happened on the pitch and what happened in the stands, it made for a sun-splashed friendly that seemed to satisfy both teams.
“I think it was just tremendous from the standpoint of our fan support,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “... The hoopla, the atmosphere, the crowd support; that was brilliant. Obviously, the result is something that we would have liked to turned out a little better, but I was proud of the way we played and proud of the support we got.”
Soccer can sometimes serve up 2-0 routs that reflect 90 minutes of domination. This wasn’t one of those. On this day, it was the ability to take advantage of chances that separated one of the top English teams just starting its preseason from one of the top Major League Soccer teams in midseason form.
The final statistics reflected a Chelsea advantage: 13-10 in shots, 8-3 in shots on goal, though the Sounders had an 11-3 edge on corner kicks. But Seattle controlled the flow of play through much of the early going, and for certain periods throughout.
The difference was that the Sounders’ build-ups led to nothing, while Chelsea extracted maximum venom from a couple of cobra-quick strikes.
“I think the game was pretty even really except for the two goals that we scored, which is maybe the slight difference in quality from the Premier League to here,” said Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard, who scored the second goal. “But ... Seattle played good football, created a few chances, and was unlucky not to score, really.”
Chelsea’s breakthrough came in a flash, on one of those everything-done-right sequences more common to the EPL than the MLS. Florent Malouda sent a long pass into the penalty area, where it was chased down by Daniel Sturridge, a 19-year-old making his Chelsea debut. Sturridge stopped the ball just as defender Tyrone Marshall went running past, then fired wide of goalkeeper Kasey Keller before Jhon Kennedy Hurtado could arrive to help.
“I just made a run by the defender and the defender came close by, he almost tackled me,” Sturridge said. “I nicked it back off him, and I looked at the keeper and I shot it with my right foot and it went into the far corner.”
The second goal unfolded just as quickly in the 35th minute. Sturridge started this one, sending a long pass to Nicolas Anelka, who ran it down to the right of the goal and centered a pass that Lampard knocked home.
“Chelsea finishes their goals,” said Sounders midfielder Freddie Ljungberg, an 11-year veteran of the EPL. “They go 110 percent, and they really concentrate on finishing. ... Apart from that, I think we showed we play well. Even some of the Chelsea boys told us after the game that we played good football, and they were impressed how we played.”
The Blues confirmed that.
“The game was not easy,” Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “The game is difficult, but we put ourselves in good position.”
What clearly impressed Chelsea most was the crowd – its size, knowledge and enthusiasm.
“It was probably the best preseason atmosphere I’ve played in for sure,” Lampard said. “Every year we come (to the United States) the support we get and other teams get gets bigger and bigger. And today was the best atmosphere I’ve played in here, for sure. Not only a full crowd but the way they reacted, the atmosphere they created before the game and during the game made it very enjoyable to play in.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808