This was supposed to be a celebration. A national audience was supposed to be greeted to a game between two of MLS's highest-profile teams, featuring six Designated Players. The Seattle Sounders were surely planning to send their fans home happy, just as they had in each of the two previous First Kicks they had hosted. In reality, almost none of that came to pass as the Seattle Sounders lost their inaugural match of the 2011 season 1-0 to the LA Galaxy.
Even before kickoff, an ominous cloud hung over this game, and it wasn't just the approaching rain storm that would essentially sit over Qwest Field for the entirety of the match. About two hours before the start of the game, news first broke that Blaise Nkufo would not be in the starting lineup. About an hour later, word leaked out that he was no longer with the team. Soon after, the team confirmed the rumors: Nkufo and the Sounders had agreed to go their separate ways. Combined with Juan Pablo Angel missing the game with an illness, the six-DP night was suddenly down to four.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid the decision to part ways with Nkufo was mutual and that there were no hard feelings on either side.
"Blaise and I spoke a few days ago, we just met," Schmid said. "There were no problems, there were no issues. There was no problem with professionalism or nothing like that. He's a very professional player and a quality player. But after we met we realized that maybe it was best to move on."
The result was O'Brian White getting the start. Schmid said the decision to start White came a couple of days ago, once it became clear that Nkufo would not be with the team. Schmid also made a point of saying that he had not decided to bench Nkufo and that playing time was not the issue that led to his departure. With this decision only being news to people outside of the team, the psychological effect on the team may not be as great as we'd probably think. Of course, it obviously doesn't help to lose one of your top scorers so close to the start of the season.
What the Sounders are left with is a situation that now looks a lot worse than your average first game loss. There were certainly moments where the Sounders looked like the better team, and we should take some level of solace in that. After the first seven minutes or so, the Sounders settled in well and created the better first-half chances. They put five shots on goal, forcing backup Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders into several impressive saves. One of those came in the 9th minute, when Saunders made a diving save of a Fredy Montero strike from distance. He robbed Montero again in the 33rd minute, showing great reflexes to stop a point-blank shot after a scramble in front of the goal.
The Sounders did not do themselves any favors, though. O'Brian White had a golden opportunity to open his scoring account in the 11th minute, but was unable to handle a pass to him inside the goal box. Erik Friberg, who had a bit of an up and down night, appeared to give the Sounders the lead in the 43rd minute, but his attempt to catch Saunders off his line went just wide. White repeatedly found himself in good goal-scoring positions, but lacked the composure we saw from him during preseason.
Those missed opportunities ultimately came back to haunt the Sounders when Juninho scored from outside the penalty area on a rocketed shot that glazed off Kasey Keller's hands in the 58th minute. The scoring sequence began when Friberg's pass was intercepted around midfield by Todd Dunivant, who ultimately fed Juninho with a pass that just eluded Friberg.
Other than that sequence, Friberg was one of the team's bright spots. He looked active and pushed forward much more than we are accustomed to seeing from Sounders center mids. Osvaldo Alonso played much more of a purely defensive role, although he was unfortunately up field on Friberg's fateful pass. Alonso and Friberg seem like they could be a good pairing, but at times they didn't appear to be entirely aware of what the other was doing.
In a bigger sense, the question really has to be asked: Do Bruce Arena and the Galaxy simply have the Sounders' number? The only time the Sounders have beaten the Galaxy in their past six meetings is in the U.S. Open Cup, when neither team played most of their starters. Perhaps predictably, the Sounders don't think so.
"Every game is it's own game," said midfielder Steve Zakuani, who was given a surprise start after suffering a groin strain in the team's final preseason game. "They had the long shot from Juninho, a shot from (Landon) Donovan that hit the crossbar and (David) Beckham's free kick, but that's it. Those were their only chances.
"The first half wasn't a game at all, it just flew by, no team settled. The second half, we settled quicker them and they played the counter-attack and that's how they got the goal. That's how we have to look at it. It's just one game, we have a bad record right now, but it's a long season. The last thing we want to do is start panicking now. We're not going to do that."
Goals by Period 1 2 Tot Los Angeles Galaxy 0 1 1 Seattle Sounders 0 0 0 Scoring Summary: LA -- Juninho (Todd Dunivant) 58 Los Angeles Galaxy - Josh Saunders, Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza, Leonardo, Todd Dunivant, David Beckham, Chris Birchall, Juninho, Landon Donovan, Mike Magee (Michael Stephens 76), Chad Barrett (Jovan Kirovski 79). Misconduct Summary: LA -- Chris Birchall (caution; Reckless Tackle) 24 SEA -- Erik Friberg (caution; Reckless Foul) 44 SEA -- Leo Gonzalez (caution; Reckless Tackle) 46+ LA -- David Beckham (caution; Reckless Tackle) 93+ Referee: Alex Prus Referee's Assistants: -Greg Barkey, Paul Scott 4th Official: Mark Kadlecik Attendance: 36,433 Time of Game: 1:52 Weather: Cloudy and 44 degrees
Substitutes Not Used: Paolo Cardozo, Frankie Hejduk, Bryan Jordan, Miguel Lopez, Brian Perk.
TOTAL SHOTS: 10 (Juninho 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Chris Birchall 1, Juninho 1); FOULS: 12 (A.J. DeLaGarza 3); OFFSIDES: 2 (David Beckham 1, Mike Magee 1); CORNER KICKS: 4 (David Beckham 4); SAVES: 6 (Saunders 6)
Seattle Sounders -- Kasey Keller, James Riley, Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez, Alvaro Fernandez (Roger Levesque 63), Osvaldo Alonso, Erik Friberg, Steve Zakuani (Miguel Montano 84), Fredy Montero, O'Brian White (Lamar Neagle 79).
Substitutes Not Used: Servando Carrasco, Patrick Ianni, Zach Scott, Terry Boss.
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (O'Brian White 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (Fredy Montero 3); FOULS: 10 (Leo Gonzalez 4); OFFSIDES: 4 (O'Brian White 2); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Osvaldo Alonso 4); SAVES: 1 (Kasey Keller 1)
Goals by Period
Los Angeles Galaxy
LA -- Juninho (Todd Dunivant) 58
Los Angeles Galaxy - Josh Saunders, Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza, Leonardo, Todd Dunivant, David Beckham, Chris Birchall, Juninho, Landon Donovan, Mike Magee (Michael Stephens 76), Chad Barrett (Jovan Kirovski 79).
LA -- Chris Birchall (caution; Reckless Tackle) 24
SEA -- Erik Friberg (caution; Reckless Foul) 44
SEA -- Leo Gonzalez (caution; Reckless Tackle) 46+
LA -- David Beckham (caution; Reckless Tackle) 93+
Referee: Alex Prus
Referee's Assistants: -Greg Barkey, Paul Scott
4th Official: Mark Kadlecik
Time of Game: 1:52
Weather: Cloudy and 44 degrees