As preseason openers go, the Seattle Sounders looked about as good as you could expect in their 2-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday. The key stretch came about midway through the first half, when the Sounders really started to assert some dominance and turned that into a pair of Obafemi Martins goals just two minutes apart.
The first sequence started with a dangerous free kick from the left wing off the foot of Tristan Bowen. Earthquakes goalkeeper David Bingham was forced to punch it for a throw-in. Jalil Anibaba's deep toss found the head of Lamar Neagle, who was able to flick it down to Martins. The Nigerian international calmly poked it into the back of the net.
Almost immediately after, the Sounders were again on the attack. This time it was Dylan Remick making a nice overlapping run from his left fullback position. His cross found Andy Rose at the back post and the center mid headed back across the goal to Martins, who again easily finished.
The Sounders opened with a backline of Remick, Djimi Traore, Chad Marshall and Anibaba and looked very organized for a group of players who had never played in a competitive match together. They were able to keep Stefan Frei from doing much in goal, as he made only a single save in the first half.
The second half saw a complete lineup change, and it showed. Aside from a few bright spots from trialists Michael Azira and Long Tan, the offense was pretty much absent. Jimmy Ockford was probably the standout defender, winning most of his duels, but he also was a bit reckless as he twice collided with teammates. Frei was on the receiving end of one of those late in the match.
The disjointed effort ultimately allowed for Mike Fucito to sneak in a late goal, mostly because Ockford and fellow center back Damion Lowe seemed to get mixed up.
Other observations from Ryan Cowper
Oba/Cooper played vertically stacked with one high striker more akin to a 4-4-1-1 than a 4-4-2. The interchanging runs of Bowen, Oba, Neagle and Cooper were good at upsetting the San Jose defense but it wasn't until Remick/Anibaba got involved on the overlap that they started breaking down and getting sustained possession in the San Jose half of the field.
While Lamar Neagle interchanged well but didn't do a whole lot with the possession he did have. He was easily the least impressive Sounder in the first half.
Andy Rose was composed in possession and interacted well spatially with Alonso. This was something I thought he tended to struggle with last year which he was quite good at in 2012. It's nice to see that return for him. His first touch has also improved relative to where it was last season.
Dylan Remick delivered a fantastic cross at pace for the second goal and was excellent getting involved in the attack. His defensive positioning and action was decent but since he was up against Cordell Cato that's basically just a "who's faster?" contest (Remick won).
The second half was expectedly far sloppier then the first from both sides, so it's really hard to draw meaningful conclusions but here are some brief thoughts.
Michael Azira and Damion Lowe both showed flashes of exceptional awareness and good technical ability. They're definitely worth keeping your eyes on. Lowe, along with Ockford, had some serious issues as the second half wound to a close with the San Jose counterattacks which were worrying.
Eriq Zavaleta was very poor. He was disposed easily on several occasions and besides a good flicked header (where he was offside) was a non-factor for the Sounders. He had a couple good hold up sequences but nothing else even resembling the phrase "Put me in coach, I'm ready to play!" I hope this is just him having a bad day.
Stefan Frei didn't have much to do in the first half other make a single very impressive save, but his second half was far busier. He was called upon to gobble up several crosses and set pieces and generally did a good job commanding his penalty area.
Among the players who did not play: DeAndre Yedlin, Brad Evans, Marco Pappa, Stefano Rijsell, Kevin Parsemain, Sean Okoli, Miguel Gonzalez, Fabio Pereira and Dzenan Catic.
SEA - Obafemi Martins (Andy Rose, Jalil Anibaba) 27'
SEA - Obafemi Martins (Andy Rose, Dylan Remick) 29'
SJ - Mike Fucito (Atiba Harris) 86'
Seattle Sounders FC
First Half: Stefan Frei, Jalil Anibaba, Chad Marshall, Djimi Traore, Dylan Remick, Tristan Bowen, Osvaldo Alonso, Andy Rose, Lamar Neagle, Kenny Cooper, Obafemi Martins.
Second Half: Stefan Frei, Tarek Morad, Zach Scott, Damion Lowe, Jimmy Ockford, Alex Caskey, Michael Azira, David Estrada, Aaron Kovar, Long Tan, Eriq Zavaleta.
Substitutes Not Used: John McCarthy, Fabio Pereira, Dzenan Catic.
San Jose Earthquakes -David Bingham (Bryan Meredith 46), Jon Otsemobor (Andreas Gorlitz 46), Victor Bernardez (Daniel Welsh 46), Joe Sofia (Ty Harden 46), Shaun Francis (Jordan Stewart 46), Cordell Cato (Atiba Harris 46), Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi (JJ Koval), Walter Martinez (Juan Baena 46), Sam Garza (A.J. Corrado 46), Billy Schuler (Mike Fucito 46), Steven Lenhart (Adam Jahn 46).
Substitutes Not Used: Brandon Barklage.
SJ - Billy Schuler (caution) 2'
SJ - Steven Lenhart (caution) 22'
SJ - Atiba Harris (caution) 51'
SEA - Damion Lowe (caution) 79'