By JOSE M. ROMERO
The blood streaming down Conor Casey's bald head said it all. The Seattle Sounders weren't just good in their 2-1 home win against the Colorado Rapids on Sunday, they were physical. As in bringing the pain.
Being the aggressor has never been a hallmark of either of coach Sigi Schmid's first two Sounders teams. But the Sounders brought some fight with them to Qwest Field on a warm summer night in the Pacific Northwest, and it made a major difference.
"I think the team showed a lot of grit and determination," Schmid said. "In the beginning of the year we had some games when we played some good soccer and didn't come out with anything, but now we get points and sometimes it means rolling up your sleeves and the team certainly did that."
Casey is one of the most physical forwards in MLS, but he was the one lying on the turf bleeding in the game's final moments, the victim of a mid-air collision with Sounders defender Patrick Ianni. Both players went up for a ball, but it was Casey who got the worst of it.
Casey had to leave the field as the Rapids finished the game with 10 men, albeit for maybe two minutes. And that wasn't the only show of force the Sounders put forth. Oft-fouled forward Fredy Montero and the slender yet feisty Osvaldo Alonso, the Sounders' invaluable holding midfielder, also hit back on the Rapids. Alonso took a bump from Casey and got right up and in the star's face.
Even Sanna Nyassi, at 5-8 and 145 pounds, threw his weight around when going after a ball in the corner during the second half. Some of the play was perhaps foul-worthy, nevertheless, referee Yader Reyes let them play and both teams committed 12 fouls a side.
Nyassi assisted on the second of two Steve Zakuani goals. Zakuani was electric in getting himself in position to score, and was almost matched in output by the Rapids' Omar Cummings.
Without starter Leo Gonzalez in the lineup because of yellow-card accumulation, the already-depleted Sounders defensive unit went with rarely-used Zach Scott at outside back. Scott struggled to contain Cummings, who scored to tie the game at 1 not a minute after Zakuani's first goal, and Cummings was disruptive for much of the match. But Seattle managed to keep him from another goal, as well as all of the Rapids, for 92 minutes.
Kasey Keller had a couple of key saves, and Ianni and Jeff Parke kept the dangerous Casey at bay.
Blaise N'kufo, the team's second designated player until the expected departure of Freddie Ljungberg any day now, made his MLS debut quietly and didn't figure in any scoring.
"We need to get used to (N'Kufo) a little more, we need to find him," Schmid said. "Sometimes early crosses can be a little more effective with him because he finds those spaces, those seams in between the central defenders so that's something we've got to look for. He did everything I needed from him or wanted from him and gave everything he had."
Seattle is now undefeated in its last three league matches, and finds itself just one standings point out of a playoff spot at present though it has played two more games than two teams in front of it, Toronto FC and Colorado, and three more than San Jose, the third team with 23 points to the Sounders' 22. And this week, Sounders FC has three games in seven days as it opens CONCACAF Champions League play at home against Isidro Metapan of El Salvador Wednesday, followed by a Saturday game on the road against the Earthquakes.
Here are the highlights from Sunday night's match: