BY JOSE M. ROMERO
Both streaks were bound to end sooner or later for Sounders FC.
The current unbeaten streak of nine games (6-0-3) that has Rave Green fans believing again. And the unbeaten streak in non-MLS competition (not including international friendlies) that spanned two seasons, with the Sounders never having lost a U.S. Open Cup match or a CONCACAF Champions League game in club history.
It's a long trip to Honduras, and CD Marathon is clearly no slouch. The "Green Monster" topped the Sounders 2-1 Thursday night in San Pedro Sula, coming back from a 1-0 deficit to win the opening match for both teams in CCL group play.
Marathon showed the experience and mettle of a team that has been in the tournament before. It had a hard time adjusting to the Sounders' pace, particularly Fredy Montero's runs from an attacking wing position, early in the match, and surrendered a 17th-minute goal to Roger Levesque off a cross from Montero and purposeful touch by Blaise N'kufo for the assist.
But if Marathon's defense needed to find itself, the offense was in control from the start. Seattle's back line was frequently racing to catch up on runs toward the goal.
Orvin Paz created some space with a good move on the Sounders' Osvaldo Alonso, and blasted in a shot past Kasey Keller to tie it. Then, a penalty on Tyrone Marshall in extra time of the first half for kicking a player in the box led to the PK that won it for Marathon. The opportunity was there because of a great long ball played into the box.
The Sounders have to take from this loss a few lessons. One, if winning on the road is tough in MLS, it's even more daunting of a task in CCL. Seattle was the only one of four MLS teams to lose the opening game of group play, but it was also the only one to open on the road. Finishing chances, a bugaboo that has often plagued the Sounders from Day One of its existence, is critical in getting some positive result, and Seattle's inability to do that in the second half on Thursday cost them.
"We didn't do well in the outset with (Milton) Palacios on the one side and (Randy) Diamond on the other side," coach Sigi Schmid said. "I think we were disjointed offensively. The last 20 minutes, 25 minutes of the game I thought we had very good energy…if you want to see the ball a lot you need to play hard. We need to be better next time."
Two, the Sounders have to overcome officials' calls against them. When Freddie Ljungberg was there, this was a recurring problem. But the team has to figure that it won't get a lot of calls its way in Mexico or Central America. It has to adapt.
Speaking of adapting, the Sounders have to adjust to playing in cavernous and near-empty stadiums. Even home games in CCL don't figure to be packed, but at least those fans that are there will give Qwest Field some atmosphere. Not so on the road, at least if you go by the Marathon game.
Four, Schmid might have to put aside his fierce loyalty to defender Tyrone Marshall and go with someone who can keep up with fleet attacking players. Marshall has the ability to recover when beaten but there's a reason that Patrick Ianni has become the starter at one central defender spot. On the penalty he was called for that led to a PK goal that ultimately cost the Sounders the match Thursday, Marshall was slow to clear the ball and while perhaps he didn't mean to kick Randy Diamond, he was clearly not expecting Diamond's hustle.
"We all learn from experiences. It's a long trip, it's hot, humid, we are on a very slow pitch and we just couldn't figure it out," Keller said. "We have got five more games left in this competition and there's nothing to fear playing these teams. We can line up with these teams quite comfortably."
Five, and lastly, Schmid must keep adjusting for all the travel and busy game schedule. He has to keep the team mentally and physically sharp with at least five more CCL games, one U.S. Open Cup match and quite possibly another, and an international friendly to fit between the remaining nine MLS matches. And the MLS playoffs are looking more and more likely every week.