Photo by Richard McEnery/ISIphotos.com
By JOSE M. ROMERO
As many ups and downs as Seattle Sounders FC has endured in its second season in MLS, this week was supposed to be more upbeat.
The club's first international friendly is against Boca Juniors of Argentina tonight, and perhaps 40,000 fans will attend. Seattle has a history of drawing big numbers for these kind of games, and fans really get into foreign clubs because they respect the way the game is played in other parts of the world.
On top of that, the club is set to debut its "Electricity" third kits, uniforms even brighter then the green ones they already wear, and Sounders FC is less than a week removed from being named Sports Business Journal's Professional Sports Team of the Year.
Instead, cloudy Seattle seems even gloomier now that central defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is likely out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
Hurtado, regarded as one of the top one-on-one defenders in MLS, is a big loss to an already depleted Rave Green squad that is struggling at home, of all places. The injury list is long.
Seattle is without midfielders Brad Evans and Pete Vagenas. Speedy forward Mike Fucito has been missing because of a deep knee bruise and defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso has yet to regain full form. Forward Nate Jaqua is back in training but hasn't played in a game all season.
Coach Sigi Schmid's lineup will have to be juggled again with the loss of Hurtado. Patrick Ianni, who has been playing in the midfield, could move to the back line. Or Seattle could see the debut of defender Jeff Parke this week, be it against Boca Juniors, or at Colorado on Saturday, when the team resumes its MLS schedule.
Another issue the team's lackluster play at home. No MLS team has more fan support in its home stadium, but those fans aren't being rewarded with results.
Last Saturday's 1-0 loss to San Jose was like every other Sounders loss at home in its history, except for the international friendlies and this year's Galaxy match, a 4-0 pounding. Seattle was the better team, taking more shots, controlling more possession and putting more pressure on the opposing team. But none of those scoring chances found the back of the net, and Sounders FC has now lost three games at home after dropping only two all of last season.
Frustration is mounting, not just with a lack of production despite opportunity, but with regard to forward Freddie Ljungberg, who was the target of some criticism from Schmid after the San Jose loss. Ljungberg has a history of gesticulating and being very demonstrative when it comes to officiating in matches to which he takes exception, and also when unhappy with his own team's play. Both were the case last Saturday.
"If throwing his hands up motivates him and makes him work harder, it's not an issue. But if arguing with the referee takes away from time that you could be helping the team, than it is an issue," Schmid said after the game. "As a leader, he's got that responsibility on his shoulders to help guide the team. He needs to look at it and say, hey, can I do that better? Can I be better at that, because it certainly doesn't help our team."
Schmid, however, acknowledged that the officiating lacked against San Jose. It should be noted, however, that Ljungberg, the team's designated player, and his coach appear to be at odds over Ljungberg's behavior. And Ljungberg wasn't thrilled about the team's decision to refund fans' money after a home loss to the L.A. Galaxy earlier this month.
"We're going to read in the referee's report that their goal was offsides and shouldn't have counted," Schmid said. "I'm tired of hearing that in the referee's report. I'd rather have the referee return the favor to us in the second half. Things right now are certainly not falling our way."
Sounders FC has 69 shots in the past five matches yet has gone 1-3-1 and scored only two goals. The 18 shots the club took last week tied the team record, but only three were on goal. Schmid expressed his disappointment with that, his team's sluggish play in the opening 15 minutes of the San Jose match, and also called out his team for failure to do "little things."
"You have Steve Zakuani outside with the ball for a throw-in and he had his shoulder surgically repaired so he can't really throw the ball in, yet no one comes over and says, 'Maybe I should throw the ball in for you because you have a bad shoulder'," Schmid said. "Patrick Ianni has the shortest arms on the team and they want him to throw the ball in. It's little things like that tell me you're not 100 percent in tune and that's what we've got to look at."
Sounders FC has plenty of time to fix its issues, but its depth is already being tested and neither the CONCACAF Champions League nor the U.S. Open Cup matches have started.