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Quick Review: Sounders back in playoff hunt

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Blaise Nkufo was short of dominant, but he did show a lot of the skills we expected of him.
Blaise Nkufo was short of dominant, but he did show a lot of the skills we expected of him.

Say what you will about how they did it, but the Sounders won a game they absolutely had to have.

After 25 minutes of end-to-end excitement that featured some gorgeous passing and wonderful finishing, the Sounders played the final 65-plus in nearly constant retreat.

It wasn't necessarily pretty, but the 2-1 victory over the Rapids gave the Sounders three points, a win over a Western Conference foe for the first time this season and moved them to within one point of the No. 8 playoff spot (albeit behind three teams that all have games in hand). The Sounders (6-4-8) sit at 22 points through 18 games.

To be sure, there are reasons for handwringing. Zach Scott looked -- how do we say this? -- shaky? out of his element? overmatched? ... not good. The midfield, and Nate Sturgis in particular, did not look as strong as it has in recent weeks. 

On this day, though, I think it's worth focusing on some of the things that went right.

Steve Zakuani had an outstanding game, and not just because he scored a pair of goals (and nearly had a third). He was active on the wing, even switching sides with Sanna Nyassi on a couple of occasions. He didn't have many giveaways -- at least that come to mind -- and in general looked as good as he ever has as a Sounder. If this is what a fully formed Zakuani looks like, we have much to look forward to.

Fredy Montero did not have a huge game, but provided a couple nice moments. His pass to Nyassi on Zakuani's second goal was an absolute beauty and, although he didn't get an assist, was instrumental in keeping the play alive that resulted in Zakuani's first goal. He continued to show increased activity and nearly scored a goal on a shot from midfield in which he almost caught goalkeeper Matt Pickens out of position.

He also seemed to work well with Blaise Nkufo, who was not spectacular but did the things I think many of us expected of him. Nkufo held the ball up nicely, made a couple nice passes and generally provided a strong target-forward presence that this team has lacked. He was also in perfect position to score if Zakuani had whiffed on his second goal.

The play of Jeff Parke and Kasey Keller made sure those efforts weren't wasted. Parke was easily the best defender, making several clearing passes and providing some sense of order on a day that was particularly chaotic on the backline.

Aside from a laser shot from Omar Cummings, Keller was nearly perfect. Two saves, in particular, stood out for me. One came relatively early on a Conor Casey header and the other came at 62' when he stopped Jamie Smith's flick. Since allowing three goals in three straight games, Keller has looked like a new man over the past three MLS matches.

It is also worth noting that, excluding the Galaxy matches, this victory levels the Sounders against the league and gives them a +1 goal differential. In fact, the Sounders have played four teams twice -- other than the Galaxy -- and are even in record and goal differential against all of them. Obviously, those two matches (collective score of 7-1) count just the same, but I think it does accurately reflect how the Sounders stack up against the rest of the league: relatively equal and trending toward better. 

There's no question the Sounders still have a significant hill to climb in order to get to the playoffs. This result is undeniably a step in the right direction. 

Goals by Period

1

2

Tot

Colorado Rapids

1

0

1

Seattle Sounders

2

0

2

Scoring Summary:


SEA -- Steve Zakuani 6 (unassisted) 8

COL -- Omar Cummings 5 (Pablo Mastroeni 1) 9

SEA -- Steve Zakuani 7 (Sanna Nyassi 2, Fredy Montero 8) 17

Colorado Rapids -- Matt Pickens, Julien Baudet, Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor, Danny Earls (Kosuke Kimura 65), Omar Cummings, Pablo Mastroeni, Mehdi Ballouchy (Quincy Amarikwa 77), Jeff Larentowicz, Jamie Smith (Claudio Lopez 65), Conor Casey.

Substitutes Not Used: Colin Clark, Wells Thompson, Scott Palguta, Ian Joyce.

TOTAL SHOTS: 15 (Conor Casey 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 4 (4 tied with 1); FOULS: 12 (Conor Casey 3); OFFSIDES: 2 (Conor Casey 1, Omar Cummings 1); CORNER KICKS: 5 (Jamie Smith 4); SAVES: 3 (Matt Pickens 3)

Seattle Sounders -- Kasey Keller, James Riley, Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni, Zach Scott, Sanna Nyassi (Roger Levesque 81), Nathan Sturgis (Mike Seamon 74), Osvaldo Alonso, Steve Zakuani, Fredy Montero, Blaise Nkufo (Nate Jaqua 70).

Substitutes Not Used: Tyrone Marshall, Tyson Wahl, Miguel Montano, Terry Boss. 

TOTAL SHOTS: 8 (Fredy Montero 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Fredy Montero 2, Steve Zakuani 2); FOULS: 12 (Fredy Montero 5); OFFSIDES: 3 (Steve Zakuani 2); CORNER KICKS: 2 (Nathan Sturgis 2); SAVES: 3 (Kasey Keller 3)

Misconduct Summary:

SEA -- Zach Scott (caution; Tactical Foul) 28

COL -- Jamie Smith (caution; Reckless Tackle) 58

SEA -- Osvaldo Alonso (caution; Reckless Tackle) 90

Referee: Yader Reyes

Referee's Assistants: -Kermit Quisenberry; Chris Strickland

4th Official: Landis Wiley

Attendance: 36,333

Time of Game: 1:56

Weather: Clear-and-75-degrees

All Statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial

 

Seattle Sounders FC vs. Colorado Rapids Quotes - July 25, 2010

 

Sigi Schmid - Sounders FC Head Coach

(Opening Statement...) "Obviously we're pleased with the three points. I think the team showed a lot of grit and determination. In the beginning of the year we had some games when we played some good soccer and didn't come out with anything but now we get points and sometimes it means rolling up your sleeves and the team certainly did that. We scored two good goals. Obviously they came right back in it after we scored our first one but we came back and got the second one. In the second half we had to dig in a little bit but that's something this year we haven't been as successful at doing and it was good to see the team show that capability. I'm very proud of their determination to win the game."

 

(On Blaise Nkufo's performance...) "I thought it was good. We need to get used to him a little more, we need to find him. Sometimes early crosses can be a little more effective with him because he finds those spaces, those seams in between the central defenders so that's something we've got to look for. He did everything I needed from him or wanted from him and gave everything he had. I think we subbed him at the right time. He's just going to get better as he gets fitter, as he gets stronger. In terms of his fitness, as the understanding of the teams grows it will get better. He was right behind [Steve] Zakuani on the second goal, so if Zakuani doesn't get it, Blaise has it."

 

(On tightening up the defense...) "In order to play offense you've got to get the ball and in order to get the ball you have to play good defense. We've given up way too many goals this year, that's one of the big differences between our team this year and last year, and we needed to tighten that up. I think we've tightened that up. We continue to work on it. There's times where it still needs to be better, but obviously today was [Osvaldo] Alonso's first game back. He played very well, but himself, [Nathan] Sturgis, [Michael] Seamon haven't had a ton of games in that position. We haven't been able to keep the same unit together. Sanna Nyassi came in today and started, played very well for us on the right hand side. It's a matter of tightening up that middle and as the guys get used to each other, get more games with each other as a unit, they'll become even better."

 

(On Steve Zakuani and  Fredy Montero leading on offense...) "It was good. I think it's Zakuani's first multiple goal game in the league, so that was good. The second goal in particular was a great ball by Montero to play Sanna in. Sanna made a great run and deserved the assist there as well. Fredy kept the ball alive on the first goal, kept digging in, digging in, kept it alive and eventually it was Zakuani and he finished it. That's what you need. We need to score goals that are nice pieces of work, but we also need to score goals where we just scrap for 'em and that's something we haven't always been getting either."

 

(On Jeff Parke helping keep Kasey Keller at bay...) "I think we did a good job with Kasey. I think we kept him at bay pretty much. I thought Omar Cummings got around us especially early in the game. We were a little concerned because Zach [Scott] ended up taking a yellow fairly early. We were actually toying with, do we need to make a change there - so we really talked about our team getting over, making sure they helped on that side of the field, that we doubled. I thought Ozzie [Alonso] did a good job of getting over there to help Zach a little bit and doubling up on Omar. Certainly, they're a dangerous team because those guys are dangerous players. It was a good win for us."

 

(On Pat Noonan...) "At the end of practice yesterday felt something a little bit, so then we tried this morning to see if he could go. He felt he could maybe push through it, but he didn't want to put the team in jeopardy, so that's the reason we made the change.

 

(On saves by Keller...) "I thought he had a couple of good saves. He saved the one header that he tipped over the bar in the first half and the reaction save coming back his left. That's just a great save. I guess you don't want to become used to it but sometimes Kasey is such a fundamentally sound goalkeeper that you're almost surprised if he doesn't make the save. He definitely came up with some big saves that kept us in the game, at a big part of the game and that's what you need your goalkeeper to do."

 

(On difference between first matchup with Colorado...) "The first matchup was Jeff Parke, I think his first game, first or second game for our team. His legs weren't under him at that point. So that was something we felt much better about. We really tried to do a better job of forcing their center backs to make the game for them. Early on I think that worked well for us. I think they adjusted a little bit to it. But for us it's really not so much about the tactical changes, just the grit and determination that we showed. And that we played with. When we come out and do that, then our crowd gets behind us and our crowd was fantastic tonight. When we're working hard and we're giving them what they want, which is hard work on the field and then they respond to that by cheering like they do it becomes a catharsis that makes us a dangerous team at home. And that's what we want to get back to as well, becoming that home team. It's not so much tactical changes, it's creating that catharsis with our crowd, it was fantastic tonight, and making our home field a place where people don't want to play."

 

Steve Zakuani - Sounders FC Midfielder

(On the win . . .) "It's just good to get a win. To be honest, I think Colorado controlled the game. We did a lot of running out there but I think we fought well as a team and, in the end, it was disappointing when we scored the first one and they came straight back. But, we made the second goal and didn't make the same mistake twice. It was a very good team that we played tonight."

 

(On his two goals . . .) "On the first one, I think I initially took a back touch. I think it was [Nathan] Sturgis or [Osvaldo] Alonso who played it to me but Fredy [Montero] was coming up. There was a bit of ping-pong in the box and the ball fell to me and it was just about getting a quick release and I did. Maybe I got a bit lucky that it came off his back but I'll take it however it comes. And the second one, great combination with Fredy and Sanna [Nyassi] out wide. I just made a run and Sanna picked me out and it's an easy tap in. I was happy to get both those."

 

(On moving forward . . .) "We have said that before. I don't think we are going to win every game from here on out. I don't think any team will. But it's a case of we have been in every game we have played this year and we've been losing them. And now what we have been doing is turning those into wins. At D.C., it was 0-0 for 85 minutes, we get the win. Tonight we didn't play great but we get the win. We just have to keep it going, I think. You see the momentum in the team. People are confident now. You saw [Nate] Jaqua came on, [Michael] Seamon came on, Blaise [Nkufo] made his first start so we have got a very deep squad and I think we just need to use that. It's a very tough league, of course, but the last tow wins have been big for us. So we just have to keep winning."

 

Fredy Montero - Sounders FC Forward

(On starting both goal-scoring plays . . .) "It all starts with the indications from the coach, especially now with [Blaise] Nkufo on the field, playing a little bit more up front. I can come back and play a little bit more in the back and set up Blaise and other people in the front."

 

(On Blaise Nkufo . . .) "The experience, first of all. And being a strong player he plays very strongly and that way we can cross balls and serve balls and we know that he will be ready for a header or just play with his back to the defender."

 

(On goal exchange in first half . . .) "Their goal was total merit for the player. There's really no one to blame. Just congratulations to Omar Cummings. But it was definitely important for us to come back quickly and close the game."

 

Kasey Keller - Sounders FC Goalkeeper

(On defensive changes from first Colorado match . . .) "Well, in the first match, we just let Conor Casey do whatever he wants. He came off us and turned and collected everything. Today I felt that Pat [Ianni] and Jeff [Parke] did a tremendous job making sure everything he got he earned. They hit him a couple times because you know Conor is going to hit you. You have got to play hard against him and he is one of the best strikers in the league. He should have gone to the World Cup and he was a handful today once again, as always. I thought the guys did tremendous against him."

 

(On his play of late . . .) "I have been happy with my form really, probably, since the break. I am just glad that I am able to help the team. I think a little bit of experience comes into play on probably that first header from Conor [Casey]. When he kind of had to check back to the ball I realized that the only way he is going to beat me is by looping it back over the top. I just didn't think he was going to be able to do it as well as he did. I think having that little thought in my mind gave me that half a second that allowed me to get back to the ball. I am just happy that I am able to help the team get some points. A couple of great goals from Zakuani and just a tremendous team effort, all around."

 

Gary Smith - Colorado Head Coach

(General comments...) "The disappointment is that in the opening ten minutes, we were second best. The game plan for them is pretty straightforward and simple. Apply pressure, lots of energy and they got some joy from that. Three times they got in behind us and twice they scored. To come away from home and concede two goals, really and truly, you're not expecting to win a game of football. However, to take it back quickly and still come in down at the break was a bit of a body blow. We got a bit more stranglehold of the game after the 15 minute hurdle. Possession was better. We looked more comfortable. And then in the second period, I thought for a good portion, especially the middle, which culminated in a fabulous opportunity, I thought we were the better team. We chased it at the end and were looking for that elusive goal. The game gets stretched and there were more offensive players on the pitch. I still thought we maintained some good pressure. Some choices were off and some finishing was off and some deliveries into the box were poor. I have to give the guys credit in a difficult environment and after a bad start, to get themselves back in the game."

Omar Cummings - Colorado Midfielder

(On goal...) "Pablo [Mastroeni] got a ball and chipped it over. I took a touch inside and shot. Once we got scored on, we knew that we had to score on them right away to get back in the game as quickly as possible before the game could run away from us."

(On second half...) "I think we put good pressure, but it was unfortunate that it didn't fall our way. They defended pretty well and we couldn't get another goal."

Matt Pickens - Colorado Goalkeeper

(On first 15 minutes...) "The start killed us, but after that we played alright. We needed to get some points here and unfortunately we didn't. They had limited chances, but they scored. We had way more opportunities than they did. Being away from home, it's overall a decent performance, but we didn't get the points. I think the first 15 minutes killed us and everyone knows that. Giving up two goals is just unacceptable on the road. We need to really tie it down."