Freddie Ljungberg and Fredy Montero have sometimes played this season as if first names were their only similarities.
That changed Saturday when each recorded a goal and an assist, leading the Sounders to a 2-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes before a sellout crowd of 28,999 at Qwest Field.
“I thought that Montero and Ljungberg did a very good job in the first half of interchanging,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “You saw Montero a lot on the right wing and he did that job when he was inside and Ljungberg was on the right, so they did a good job of interchanging and that’s the way we want to play. As they get more and more time with each other, we’ll do that better and better.”
Through the early minutes, this game featured an ongoing frustration for the Sounders. Plenty of chances resulted only in plenty of frustration.
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The Sounders dominated the run of play, while Montero, Steve Zakuani, Patrick Ianni and Brad Evans all had solid chances and all failed to finish.
The breakthrough came in the 42nd minute when San Jose defender Jason Hernandez tumbled over the ball on his own end.
Montero tapped it away to Sebastien Le Toux, who forwarded to Ljungberg, who was running free through the penalty area.
Ljungberg carried the ball at San Jose goalkeeper Joe Cannon and beat him one-on-one from about 8 yards out.
Two of those three were involved again in the 59th minute when the Sounders put it away with their second goal. This time it was Ljungberg starting it with a corner kick and Montero finishing from close range. In between was Ianni, who fought through tight marking to head the corner down to Montero’s foot.
“Me and Fredy we try to work (together),” Ljungberg said. “Early in the season I played the midfield and I had to defend a lot and I had to go back deep, so we were far off on the pitch. Now we’re trying to mix a little bit and we’re higher up and then we can have more combinations, me and Fredy, and it worked well.”
However, the Sounders’ magic seemed to wear off after that second goal, and suddenly San Jose began controlling the action.
“This was probably pretty much a game of two halves,” Schmid said. “In the second half we got the second goal and then I think we kind of lost the plot a little bit. They obviously got more aggressive. We had maybe a few too many guys that didn’t come back defensively for us, and that was the reason we made some of the changes. Obviously a bad play in the back results in their goal.”
“Bad” seems too mild to describe the play. In the 68th minute, the Sounders struggled to clear the ball out of their penalty area. They finally did – barely – but Montero sent it back toward his own goal where it was intercepted by Shea Salinas. He sent it on to Ryan Johnson, who found Darren Huckerby, who finished past an unhappy Kasey Keller.
“There were a whole lot of problems on that goal,” Keller said. “We got complacent and didn’t clear the goal. I don’t know why. It definitely won’t happen again.”
Schmid responded by sending in his best defenders, including Osvaldo Alonso, who was coming back from a quad injury.
The Sounders weren’t able to regain their flow, but they managed to get their first win since April 25. And in hindsight, that was enough.
“But when you’re in a streak where we weren’t getting (a) win, but right now you take the win,” Schmid said. “There were games where we played well – Chivas as an example – and we came away with the loss and probably played a better complete 90 minutes than we played today. But at the end of the day it’s a good solid win at home, and I’m very proud of the effort that the team put in.”
The Sounders don’t have long to celebrate. They play Wednesday against Eastern Division leader D.C. United at Qwest Field.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808