By: Karen Watson
SEATTLE – The Seattle Sounders delivered on what the supporters had asked of them, written on a huge banner during a pre-game display: “Fight for this city, its people and their spirit.” In what was probably the most highly anticipated match of the season with the return of recently traded Freddie Ljungberg and the Chicago Fire, the home side prevailed in a convincing 2-1 victory in front of a full house of 36,386. Fredy Montero was the hero of the evening after scoring both goals and thus sending Seattle into prime real estate at fourth in the Western Division.
Although Swedish flags dotted Qwest Field, Ljungberg had a somewhat chilly reception and faced heckling with every touch of the ball. Sounders Coach Sigi Schmid accurately assessed the situation post game, “I know our fans were booing him but I didn’t hear many, meaning he didn’t touch the ball much. That’s good.”
While the Chicago Fire have recently been experiencing a good run of form, earning points in six of their last nine matches, both teams were evenly matched throughout a first half that was characterized by physical play. Seattle’s Montero shoved over former teammate Ljungberg in the 24’ earning a yellow card for his trouble and setting up a Chicago free kick. Two minutes previous Chicago defender Steven Kinney was shown the yellow for a foul on Montero. All and all three yellow cards and nineteen fouls made for an eventful forty-five minutes.
Schmid fielded essentially the same team (with the addition of Tyson Wahl) that gave a listless performance against CF Monterrey on Wednesday, but this improved high energy version of the Sounders was successful in linking quick passes and working for possession. What a difference three days make.
Referee Ramon Hernandez awarded a penalty to the Fire after calling a handball on defender Jeff Parke in the 28’. Chicago midfielder John Thorrington wasn’t about to let this opportunity go to waste and buried it to give the visitor’s a 1-0 lead and ending Seattle’s clean sheet at 351 minutes. The Sounders answered with a goal in the 36’ off a well placed long cross from Wahl that Montero was able to control with a little step over and send past Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
Seattle continued to look sharp after the break and were able to keep the majority of play in Chicago’s half of the pitch. Midfielder Alvaro Fernandez had opportunity to put the Sounders one up in the 59’ but wasn’t able to connect with a terrific cross from Blaise Nkufo. Later in the 77’ Nathan Sturgis wasted another scoring chance set up off yet another cross by launching the ball into the Brougham End.
Sounders forward Nkufo was replaced in the 82’ by Nate Jaqua, leaving the Swiss international still searching for his first MLS goal. The Fire’s best chance for the winner came in the 86’ off a header from Collins John but goalkeeper Kasey Keller got the easy jump on it.
Just as it began to look like both teams would be settling for one point, an unmarked Montero headed one in off a Sturgis long ball during the second minute of stoppage time, basically ensuring a Seattle win. The Sounders now have thirty-two points from twenty-two games and are unbeaten in seven consecutive MLS matches.