Photo by ISIphotos.com
By JOSE M. ROMERO
They weren’t, and probably won’t be last year’s New York Red Bulls. But Saturday night’s Seattle Sounders FC was in many ways the same club as it was in Year One. And that doesn’t bode well for the Rave Green and its faithful.
Seattle’s strength is and will continue to be in the back, at least until scorer Blaise Nkufo arrives to help bolster the offense. The Sounders’ defense was strong again Saturday in a 1-0 loss to New York, from defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso to goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
But coach Sigi Schmid has to realize, if he hasn’t already, that his talented team can’t get by on quick counters and occasional Steve Zakuani one-on-one runs to score goals. And at some point, Seattle has to finish more chances if it is going to live up to the lofty expectations set for the club.
Sounders fans had to have left Qwest Field Saturday wondering if another long streak of goal-less games at home is at hand. The team didn’t score at home in four games from July 25 to Sept. 19 last season, though it outshot its opponent in three of those matches.
Saturday night, Seattle set club records set club records with nine corner kicks in the first half and 12 for the game. It outshot the Red Bulls 17-10, and forced goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul to make five saves.
Give NYRB credit – Coundoul was on his game, and the Red Bulls made the best of a good albeit well-defended chance when Macoumba Kandji scored off a corner kick in the 21st minute. It is clearly a better team than last season’s version, with two wins already, and the Red Bulls are quite a step above the young and mistake-prone Philadelphia Union team that came into Qwest and was soundly defeated 2-0 on March 25.
But nine corners and 17 shots produced zero goals this past week. And then there is this lovely nugget from the team: In 34 regular-season and playoff games, Seattle is 13-1-8 when getting at least one goal. It is 0-8-4 when held scoreless.
That includes an 0-3-4 mark at home.
“I'm not displeased with our effort, I'm not displeased with our ability to get forward but I am displeased with our ability to finish,” Schmid said after the game.
The simple answer in finishing chances is practice, practice, practice. But Sounders FC did that last year, too. Teams are going to continue to mug Freddie Ljungberg and Fredy Montero, so chances for them will be based on their ability to get free for open shots.
Perhaps the team sensed that when deciding to add proven scorer Pat Noonan to its depth at forward. But Noonan needs time to adjust to how his teammates play and fit in.
Maybe the secret to stopping the Sounders is fouling its playmakers. Maybe it is great goalkeeping. Or maybe the Sounders have to find other ways to generate chances, even if it means sacrificing something on the defensive end.
That seems to be where Schmid finds himself at present.
“"Disappointed that we weren't able to get one. We did enough work to make that happen,” he said. “When we went to three in the back, we actually had less of the ball. Sometimes it might have been better to stay with the four because we were applying a lot of pressure. Guys were pushing up out of that. You've got to roll the dice sometimes.”
Especially at home, where goals for Sounders FC are at a premium.