It was a night that could have very well gone quite differently. Emotions were high. Two players had just been lost to potentially season-ending ailments. A 12th minute tribute to one of them ran the very real risk of causing players to lose their focus. But rather than being distracted, the Seattle Sounders turned it into more of an inspiration, as they turned in what was probably their most dominant performance of the year in a 3-0 win over Toronto FC behind two Brad Evans goals and an assist on Saturday.
Perhaps the biggest part of the Sounders' ability to harness those emotions was getting an early goal from Alvaro Fernandez. Evans, playing as a right midfielder, sent in a cross from just outside the penalty area near the endline that Fernandez was able to easily head past Toronto FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei in the 9th minute.
"We're a team that when we score first we get confidence from that," Sounders center back Patrick Ianni said. "We play better and better. We feed off goals, they really change the game and it opens up space."
Although the Sounders continued to dominate the first half, they weren't able to get any other goals. That quickly changed in the second half, as they came out and created several quick chances before Fredy Montero found Evans streaking toward the goal. Evans was able to run onto the ball and one-touched it past Frei to double the Sounders' lead. After a few more close calls, Evans finally put the game away when he converted a 75th minute penalty that followed a Dicoy Williams handball.
The third goal sent the crowd into the kind of celebratory frenzy rarely seen at Qwest Field, as the emotions of the night were able to be fully released.
Any winning locker room tends to be jovial, but on a night like this that had so much surrounding it, there seemed to be something extra. It was the kind of atmosphere that allowed Mike Fucito to jokingly say he'd "have to talk to" Nate Jaqua after the forward failed to convert a near perfect feed from Fucito. After a week in which the Sounders lost two teammates for indefinite periods of time, they seemed to honestly enjoy being able to have something to feel good about.
"Before the game we talked about just being grateful to be out there and that at any point you can lose that -- I think it's a good attitude to have anyway -- but we really dedicated our performance to Steve and OB," Ianni said.
The fans, too, offered their own salute to Zakuani. From the 11:00 mark until 11:59, 36,000-plus fans held aloft white No. 11 placards and chanted Zakuani's name.
"I heard that was going to happen and I was just hoping that everyone went through with it," said Ianni, who is one of Zakuani's closest friends on the team. "When I saw them, I just smiled and was glad that they were giving Steve his due.
"For him to be able to see that and be encouraged by that is great. No great person ever does it by himself and I'm glad that he's getting that support from our fans."