For me the story is of course Steve Zakuani on the left side and how that changed the speed of the offense, as well as the set pieces. While yes, Zakuani scored off of a set piece, I don't think that play is the story, but instead the return to a rapid transition game - The Enemy's Gate is Down style I have previously outlined.
Seattle took the ball in their own third and then immediately moved into the attack, nearly everyone. Seattle can do this due to the speed of Hurtado and Riley to get back defensively, but also the freedom that having the league and nation's best keeper allows.
Another part of this rapid transition, a transition that led to the first yellow card against the Quakes, is the Freddyain getting more in tune with each other. That first sustained thrust came from Riley, to Ljungberg to Montero and took about 6 seconds to go nearly box to box. This forced the defense on its heals, and there aren't many humans that run backwards well.
At 9:45 we see a long Keller punt from a free kick that is won by Zakuani who passes to Jaqua, to Montero, to Zakuani who drifted to a Right Mid spot, to Brad Evans to James Riley on one of his Wingback runs. There is flow and rapid passing, and the lateral passes are only done to free space in order to attack the goal. There isn't a shifting back and forth, but a deliberate strategy to attack the ball on defense and immediately attack the goal on offense.
Seattle did struggle throwing a few extra passes across the box in 15th minute, but in this offensive sequence had Ljungberg, Zakuani, Jaqua, Evans, Riley and Montero all involved in the action. The cross from Riley was not connected solidly, but Seattle even won the rebound. Ljungberg's entry went over everyone's head and led to a failed effort. This series of deft short to medium passes had 'Quakes defenders again on heels with their heads constantly switching direction.
Seattle won a corner through a play that started with Marshall winning the ball in Seattle's area. He fed Zakuani who dribbled up to about 30 yards out starting slightly left but finishing slightly right. Steve passed to Ljungberg on the right, who fed Riley, back to Ljungberg. Freddie flicked to Fredy, who then popped it up to Zakuani. Steve headed it to Riley, who misses Jaqua on the shallow cross, but Rave Green wins the corner again. This lead to a set-play where the Freddyain nearly connect on a goal.
Nearly every other minute of the first half Seattle forced the Quakes onto their backs. Rapid transitions, multiple running players in support. Not just secondary options, but tertiary. The run of play was regularly fueled by Zakuani and/or Ljungberg. The two products of Wenger share the knowledge of the game that involves freedom and flow, not a hit and hope, but a smooth effortless attack that involves as many as 8 players from the attacking side. With Sigi fueling his game of rapid transition this has lead to Seattle not having a huge possession advantage, because there tends not to be cautious probing, but instead an all out drive for the only thing that matters on offense, the opponents gate/goal.
Time and again the Rave Green didn't allow San Jose to get as physical as the last two teams, because Seattle players did not hold the ball when in traffic. Seattle players just found their open man and continued to move forward. This is one way to avoid the physical nature of the league, to just overwhelm the opponent with numbers. In the future this may leave Seattle open to the hit and hope counter, but the anchors of Marshall and Hurtado should be able to give Keller enough time to react to the eventual hopeful shot. This strategy can only work as long as Seattle has a top 5 keeper in the net, but this doesn't mean just Keller.
On set pieces in attacking positions, it is notable that Freddie Ljungberg took nearly all of the free kicks, and Fredy Montero took the corners. This is another shift of these shared strategies, and frees both up for opportune rebounds, but more importantly for the team puts the two best at bending the ball with power in positions where they can do it. There was better ball winning on the corners, and though Sounders didn't directly score, the work and tactics here seem to be making a difference quickly.
Tonight US Open Cup match can be listened to at KALL Salt Lake's website, or followed at SoundersFC.com and their live blog. Both teams will be starting a mix of 'reserves' and first teamers. Starfire's Field Turf plays more bouncy (not quite Giants Stadium quality) and is narrow. There will be 4,500 or so fans bouncing in the bleachers, and I only wish I could be there.
In upcoming site news, Glenn Davis granted me a few minutes of time this evening and I will have his impressions of Sounders and the first 20% of the MLS season. Davis will be calling the game this Saturday as well.