By: Karen Watson
With a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo, the Seattle Sounders added another game to their eight game unbeaten streak while heaping more misery on the struggling visitors who haven’t won a match since May 15. The sell-out home crowd of over 36,000 cheered not only the win but those sorely needed three points that now propel the Sounders into a more secure playoff position.
The first half was characterized by physical play, with rough challenges coming from both sides and a staccato rhythm that never allowed either team to get up any real attack. A sloppy clearance by Kasey Keller off a corner kick in the second minute set up a dangerous scramble in front of goal, ultimately cleared by defender James Riley, but gave evidence to a shaky start by the Sounders.[picappgallerysingle id=”9523425″]
The Sounders maintained a 5-2 shot advantage in the first half with the best chances coming in the 14’ off a Fredy Montero free kick and in the 35’from a Blaise Nkufo attempt from twenty yards out. Both were cleared easily by Houston’s Tally Hall who happens to be a Washington native and Gig Harbor High School graduate.
Referee Michael Kennedy applied cards with a wide brush due to the rough play, although most of that yellow ended up on Sounders players during the first half. Midfielder Sanna Nyassi was booked in the 28th minute following a late but deliberate challenge on Eddie Robinson and while no foul was immediately called, after Sounders defender Leo Gonzalez kicked the ball out of play so that Robinson could receive treatment, the fourth official called Kennedy’s attention to the offence. Nyassi himself needed to leave the pitch because of a nose bleed resulting from the tackle.
Scoreless at the half, it turned into a forty-five minute game with the Sounders coming out on the attack after the break. Steve Zakuani had the perfect set up in the 46’with a beautiful ball from Montero, who’s had either an assist or goal in the last eight games. But Zakauni let it linger a bit too long and sent it right into Hall for a textbook clearance. Being the best chance of the match so far, Zakuani’s frustration was clear after his hesitation cost the shot.
The Dynamo’s choppy passing and closed formation never created any real shots except for a space launch by Danny Cruz in the 53’ and a ball into the empty net in the 56’ which was deemed off sides. Houston made two changes in the 57’ bringing on Brian Mullan and Geoff Cameron. Indeed it changed the pace of play but probably not as intended with Mullan picking up a yellow card within thirty seconds of stepping onto the pitch.
As the game moved past the 60’ mark, the Sounders set up camp in Houston’s end with
Osvaldo Alonso drilling one right to goal that Hall admirably punched away, followed by Nyassi sending another shot across the net until it seemed that this game might end a scoreless draw. The Sounders finally got one in on an incredible goal by Montero in the 64’ – off a long clearance by Keller, out muscling Houston’s Robinson to control the ball off his chest and then bringing it down to get the shot off.
Uruguayan international Alvaro Fernandez came on to replace Zakauni in the 69’, making his first appearance for the Sounders in a MLS game. Playing Fernandez on the right resulted in the ultimate pay off for Coach Sigi Schmid in the form of a goal in the 87’ off an assist from Montero, proving why he deserved to be July MLS Player of the Month. Even with three minutes of stoppage time the Sounders had the game in hand and Houston finished out the match playing like a beaten team.
While Montero and Fernandez both had outstanding games, the win still leaves Nkufo looking for his first goal in a Sounder uniform. His next opportunity will come against Chivas USA on the August 14.