To borrow from the impressive five section TIFO from the Emerald City Supporters, last night the latest chapter in the Seattle Sounders legend started. It started with a March on the Match, the pre-game celebration, an enormous crowd that Harkes considered on par with Europe, but most importantly a THREE - NIL victory over a side that was in the MLS Cup Finals last year - though weakened last night.
While the story could be about the atmosphere and the color of the game, it should be about the history setting first ever victory by an expansion team over a non-expansion team in their opening match. The story should be about the stellar performance of Colombian Forward Fredy Montero, or possibly about the lock down defense by James Riley and Zach Scott at FullBack.
For me, though, the main story must be about the style of team that Sounders FC put together, the way that Sigi Schmid manages the game. Sure there was a 4-4-2 diamond, but it went a little beyond that. There was forward defense, almost a full pitch press. We saw Jhon Kennedy Hurtado mark up his country man in Juan Pablo Angel, Zach Scott control Dane Richards and the shorter James Riley control the aerial passes to Mac Kandji.
The story of this game was that Sigi Schmid might call his formation a 4-4-2, but instead what we really saw was something akin to a 3-2-3-2. There were always the two Centerbacks along the back line, almost always with Zach Scott also remaining along the line, basically marking Richards. Riley, and occasionally Scott came up in a third layer of attack with Osvaldo Alonso. Hurtado marked Angel quite well, causing JPA issues with controlling the ball during those rare moments that the was able to receive service in the first half. This line held well in defense but only rarely came up in attack during the run of play.
This third layer of attack really built up control of the center third, through their control of Rojas defensively, but also by being able to spread the ball wide early in the run of play. The Alonso/Riley layer led to quick passes both up the middle and to the wide mid. Riley had a few overlaps with Sanna Nyassi, including one play where Riley attempted a cross from within the opposing box - remember he was supposed to be the right back.
Rather impressive from the middle layer was that all of Nyassi, Evans and Le Toux got back in defense when needed, but what made it enjoyable was that these three defended forward right around the edge of the attacking and middle third. This caused Jorge Rojas (Red Bull's Center Attacking Mid) to drop well back at about only 40 yards forward of his own keeper. Having the best Red Bull ball handler start his run of play so far back meant that there was little service to Angel. But this also meant that the three captured possession in places where they could enter the ball to Montero and Jaqua quickly. Evans' work as a distributor was solid. He swung the ball wide at times, but didn't settle for merely going wide, forcing the two CDMs for Red Bull to keep guessing how the ball would come into threatening positions. Evans' understanding of Sigi's tactical philosophy was apparent in the way that he managed the game.
Jaqua and Montero may be listed as Forwards, but they defended and distributed as well. Montero often came back to receive a pass from Alonso. Fredy would then serve up a long pass to Nyassi, Jaqua, Le Toux or Riley that would allow himself to start a run. Petke couldn't mark Fredy when he came back, and when Fredy got the ball back he would take two or three defenders on, with great ball finesse. Jaqua pressured up top mainly, some times sparking sloppy passing by New York.
This four layer attack/defense looks to me like a Total Football meets the old University of Kentucky full court press from the 1-2-1-1. Red Bull didn't have the outlets available even deep in their own third due to the high pressure, and the use of the lines to hide and trap the opposition.
Sounders FC could afford to be so aggressive defensively because of the strength of Hurtado marking Angel, and of course the reflexes of Kasey Keller. When Red Bull threatened in the 60-75th minute it was purely the USA's best keeper that saved the day. Those 15 or so minutes when it looked like the Rave Green would give up their first goal saw the four layers compressed into two with some players losing their mark, and Rojas actually able to control the Red Bull run of play in the attacking third.
Breaking Down the Goals
Goal 1 - Fredy Montero - 12th minute: This goal was created from a long throw at about 40 yards that was inserted to Jaqua who dribbled through traffic, then passing back to the late running Alonso. Alonso after a few touches saw Le Toux in a post-up position who retreated a few yards and then left a drifter out to the right side for Fredy Montero to slice it into the far post. Off ball movement by Alonso, Nyassi and Le Toux are what created the spacing for those passes, and forced Red Bull into poor positioning and allowing a Montero the time to place his strike.
Goal 2- Brad Evans - 25th Minute: The early lead up to this goal was great defense and a very long clearance by Hurtado. His clearance eventually went out, but the high pressure forced Red Bull into another poor possession and the lost the ball at about their 6 on the left for another Sounders throw in from a threatening distance. The throw went to Montero who retreated a bit in order to give himself space. From that space on the left elbow of the box he was able to wait for the run by Evans. The pass was inserted quickly, and again the off ball movement was the key to creating the space for the scorer. Nate Jaqua might not be credited for the assist, but the target forward drifted to the right of the 6 yard box forcing a Red Bull defender to cover him and leaving the left side clear for the Evans run.
Goal 3 - Fredy Montero - 75th Minute: This goal was all about Forward defense and the pressure that the REd Bull backs couldn't handle. Their on ball skills and passing were poor tonight and only the arrival of their missing players can solve it. The constant pressure in all thirds forced Red Bull to retreat quite a bit, and in this case Montero picked Petke's pocket. With Petkes passport, checkbook and cash in hand Montero came at Danny Cepero with time for a solid dummy and just netted it easily near post.
Sounders FC could have had a few more if not for Cepero and an uncalled handball in the box on a brilliant cross, but I will take a three goal win any day. Now ust 3.3% into the season Seattle is 7.5% on its way to the 40 point line that indicates the playoffs. Remember this league is about getting 10+ wins, at least 3 on the road.
Other match reports of note
And the Sounders? Their biggest "problem" will be figuring out how to get Ljundberg on the field. Brad Evans and Nate Jaqua will have to step up their games to stay in the lineup.
Prost Amerika Summation Sounders FC are now on top of the table.
As for the crowd, as stated, it was great. It struck me as being a bit different than what we see in Toronto (which is the only other full and fully involved crowd in MLS to compare it to). Although you could make out singing from time to time (and typing this I know that someone that was in the supporters section last night will tell me that they rocked the joint), it was more of a constant noise than an organized one. With a marching band. Which I’m still nowhere near sold on. It sounded like a rowdy college football crowd more than a rowdy European football crowd. And that’s fine. More than fine. Every city should have its own culture anyway.
Seattle Times Prime Position on their online site. Bigger than the budget shortfall, the Huskies in the NCAA tourney. The number one story for the city, if only for one day.
My plans for the weekend are to recap the atmosphere, talk to a few players, look ahead to the RSL match next Saturday and catch at least on of the games on FSC tomorrow.
Lastly, I was quite impressed with how Roth, Hanauer and Carey milled with the crowd before the match. I thanked both Roth and Hanauer for bringing the city an MLS team after the 13 year wait. Then I asked Joe Roth what would need to be done to get Qwest to be the largest Soccer Specific Stadium in the USA.
"We will open the upper deck when it is prudent, like for the Chelsea match"
How large of a waiting list would you need? Would the 12,000 long list of Toronto be enough?
"That would be a start, but first we need to see 32,000 for every match."
So while we celebrate this first ever victory by an MLS Expansion team against a non-expansion team in their opening match, while we celebrate seeing a Seattle based pro-team at the top of the standings. Spread the word, there are still tickets available for the RSL match. Evangelise the sport, we have space to grow. Because this week, you can say you were there when history became legend.
If you missed Match Day One, but still want the rest of the Season ticket package there are about 100 left. Yes, 100 17 game packages are all that are left. Give Steve Lund at Sounders FC (425-203-8132) a call if you liked what you saw from Match Day One and want to see more of that.