The Sounders have officially hit the halfway point in the season with great standing, making a run at both the MLS and US open cups. However, the team has been marred with injuries, red cards, and wasted opportunities, making many fans frustrated with how much better the team could be.
Seattle currently stands in 3rd place in the west division with 22 points, behind stands Houston’s 28 and Chivas USA’s 27. Their record stands at 5-3-7, and is the main point of frustration from fans. Having so many ties has been especially rough on a city used to mediocrity (no major championships since the 70’s other than the Storm victory) after all of the hype surrounding the new team, and the ferocious start the team lead off with, outscoring opponents 7-0 in the first three games.
The highlight of the season so far has been the remarkable play of Kasey Keller, who started his first tour in Major League Soccer with four consecutive clean sheets and has only allowed more than one goal in two games all year. He has shown that he has plenty left in the tank after 17 years in Europe, with a number of amazing saves in the Colorado and Chivas games. Keller has made up for occasional defensive lapses on what has otherwise been solid defensive play.
Fredy Montero is the teams leading scorer, and seems to have found his edge again with a few goals in the last few weeks. Montero disappeared on the field after dealing with a painful legal battle early in the season, in which he was accused of rape and stalking. The charges were later dropped, but after returning, Montero’s play seemed lackluster, causing many fans to call for his benching. In his absence, Nate Jaqua became the biggest scoring threat for the team, with five goals so far this season. Montero has returned as a threat in recent weeks, notching the lone goal against the Red Bulls on a fantastic steal and drive.
Injuries were nonexistent for the Sounders through the first few weeks of the season, but hit the team hard after Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans went down in the first game against Chivas. Alonso’s injury may have been the most costly, as the teams offense dropped considerably in his absence and returned again as he took the field against San Jose in week 13. Many have been calling him, and teammate Sebastian Le Toux, “one of the hardest working players on the field”.
While improper officiating has come under scrutiny after various red cards, none more notably than the one on Montero in week seven at Chicago, the team goes into the rest of the season with a league leading five red cards. That means that players are pushing the envelope too much, and in some cases are getting far too angry about calls they feel are improper.
The discipline issue extends to regular play as well. With the Sounders up 3-1 against DC united late in the second half, the defense gave up a pair of goals including an own goal by Tyrone Marshall, and in the very next game a failed clearance by Marshall hit one of his own players and bounced away to a New York player, leading to the only goal scored in that game against the Sounders. Freddie Ljungberg had a penalty shot, and shanked it wide of the posts. In other words, this team’s concentration has, at times, has a lot to be desired.
There have been signs of improvement in recent weeks despite the obvious shortcomings. Montero and Ljungberg, as well as the rest of the team, have been making much more crisp and solid passes than in weeks passed. On a similar note, assists have been much more accurate and in much more dangerous areas, which should lead to more scoring opportunity.
The team has had more than its share of close calls. After almost every game, the first topic of discussion among the TV commentators like Kevin Collabro has been the shots that hit the crossbar or sailed just wide of the net. Unfortunately, for both the team and the agonized fans, there is little that can be done about those instances, because it simply comes down to luck.
The Sounders are definitely in the thick of a playoff hunt now, and are only three wins from a division lead. Not only that, but they have proceeded through the first two rounds of the Open Cup and play their longtime USL rivals, the Portland Timbers, in the next round. However, the most highly anticipated matches for Sounders fans right now are not Open Cup games or regular season matchups, but the upcoming friendly games against Chelsea and Barcelona, on July 18 and August 5 respectively. Both clubs are bringing their starting eleven, and each game is nearly sold out, including the upper deck.
While there is a lot to be frustrated about concerning this team, there is also a lot to be excited about. Don’t be surprised if you hear “Sounders Till I die” in the streets come November, and the playoffs.