Sounders FC

Sounders can’t sustain start, settle for tie

One thing the Sounders have said a lot this season is that when they get that one big breakthrough goal, others will follow in bunches.

They probably felt that day had arrived Saturday as Steve Zakuani got them off to a flying start with a goal in the fourth minute – the earliest in club history.

However, the Sounders followed that with 86 minutes of familiar frustration: chances aplenty, but no more goals.

That allowed no margin for error. So, when a major error came – a defensive blunder in the closing seconds of the first half – Seattle had to settle for a 1-1 draw with unbeaten Columbus before a crowd of 36,219 at Qwest Field.

“It was a good goal by Zakuani,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “And then we had the other chances. We were sniffing around the box: (Brad) Evans with the near-post run, (Fredy) Montero had some good looks. ... Yeah, you’re hoping that this is the game it happens for you. But, obviously, I’d like to get more than one.”

They didn’t. But the one was a dazzler.

In the fourth minute, Peter Vagenas sent a pass to Montero near midfield. Montero was knocked down, but referee Ricardo Salazar allowed the Sounders to play on with their advantage. The ball went to Freddie Ljungberg, who one-touched to a wide-open Zakuani running free past the Crew defense.

He ran straight at keeper William Hesmer, faked a shot, then touched the ball behind Hesmer into the open net.

“There were about three minutes off the clock, and I hadn’t touched the ball yet,” Zakuani said. “I needed to get involved in the game. Freddie put a good ball through. (Hesmer) didn’t make a move. I’m waiting for him to make a move; he didn’t. I saw there was space behind him to get around him. Usually I try to finish that, but he didn’t move so I had to go around him.”

The goal came one minute earlier than Seattle’s previous earliest goal – also by Zakuani – last season at D.C. United.

Looking comfortable in their new 4-3-3 formation, the Sounders (2-2-3) continued to dominate most of the half, stringing together passes much as they had six days earlier at Toronto.

However, in the lone minute of first-half stoppage time, the Sounders’ defense broke down when Patrick Ianni tried to cover for Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and left Steven Lenhart alone in front of the goal.

The Crew (2-0-2) took advantage by working the ball down the left side. Danny O’Rourke crossed into the box, where Lenhart got his head to it, sending it past Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller from about 6 yards.

“It was elementary mistakes on the goal,” Schmid said. “I mean, Lenhart is their best header of the ball, and for him to be unmarked in the box is criminal.”

In the second half, Seattle had several more chances. Montero hit the right post in the 52nd minute. Ianni headed one over the bar on a corner from Ljungberg in the 62nd minute. Ljungberg hit the right pole a few minutes later.

The Sounders played the final five minutes with a one-man advantage after Columbus defender O’Rourke picked up a second yellow card. And in stoppage time, an apparent goal by Montero was waved off due to a Sanna Nyassi foul.

But the club’s problem with finishing lingered through the final whistle.

“It’s close,” Keller said. “I keep feeling that it’s going to happen and it’s getting better and better. But better and better without the victories doesn’t really mean a whole lot. At some stage it’s all about winning games or picking up points that we should pick up. And today we should have picked up three points, and we didn’t.”

Major League Soccer’s only other unbeaten team awaits the Sounders next weekend, as the Los Angeles Galaxy, which moved to 5-0-1 with a 3-1 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday, visits Qwest Field.

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808