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Sounders prevail in second big test

Salt Lake is a serious contender, and they test the Sounders' ability to take some coldly delivered fouls.
Kyle Beckerman, RSL captain, tries to contain the Sounders' star, Freddie Ljungberg

Kyle Beckerman, RSL captain, tries to contain the Sounders' star, Freddie Ljungberg Seattle Sounders F.C.

For their second game of their very first season, the Seattle Sounders once again sold out their allotted section of Qwest Field and once again defeated a strong new opponent, this time Real Salt Lake, with a shutout victory 2-0. This second victory had only moments of the dominance that marked their season opening win against the NY Red Bulls.

It is interesting to be starting an outdoor professional season in March, particularly this ill humored March. Baseball will wait until April, and if the games land on a day more winter than daisies, the players will dress as if they landed in someone else's play. But soccer, at every level, is at least a three of the four seasons sport, drawing the line, typically, at ice on the ground. Soccer people often have clothes and boots for all of the seasons in their trunk.

The two Sounder victories have both landed on days of miserable March weather — wind, snow in the mountains, 40 degree rain — yet both have seen it clear up for the pregame. There were 28,000 fans at the Real game, seemingly 27,000 with the soft green Sounders scarf wrapped about, and they fill up Qwest Field like a dispenser. If summer ever does come, SFC should consider a lighter cotton scarf, for the gentler evenings.

This was hardly a gentle game. Real had obviously had enough of TV replays and news of Sounder March madness and Fredy Montero. The Salt Lake team seems to have decided, well in advance, that they would bring some sturm and drang to the proceedings. Last year, Real was a very powerful contender for the MLS title, and they have kept their team intact and intend to be even more powerful this year.

The game had barely started when they coldly fouled Montero with a slide tackle. The referee held out the yellow card but the announcement was up. Montero was intently dropped four more occasions and drew another Real yellow card. The Salt Lake team was in this one for blood and to take a full test of the Sounders' relation to pain and punishment. They were coldly blatant, the final cue coming when Montero was tossed from behind head first into the light panels.

Coach Sigi Schmid talked about the Montero treatment after the game, saying "this is part of the game and Fredy will have it like this most of the season." It would be their job, he noted, to teach Fredy when to hold the ball, when to give it up, when to stay out of dark alleys. Montero is only 21 but he is hardly a waif. He has spent his entire career dealing with whatever abuse defenders might devise and countering with whatever cunning and craft he might devise. And when he does get whacked, he makes a notice of it.

Real came into the game intending to whack away at the Sounders (they will meet at least twice again this season) but their cause was undercut by the elegance of the Sounders' first goal, a lovely play that began with Steve Zakuani, one on one at the left side of the Real goal. Zakuani was drafted by the Sounders as a sophomore in college at Akron, where he lead the nation in goals and assists in 2008. But his line runs much further even than that, for he played six years with the Arsenal Youth team, from ages 9 to 15, after his parents moved from the Republic of Congo to London. His brother Gabriel plays in the highest temple of soccer, the English Premier League, Arsenal being one of that league's most notorious musketeers.

Zakuani, who said that is one of the things I do, did precisely that, running the Real defender Borchers to three distinct cuts, ending with a right-footed cross to the fine center forward Nate Jaqua to score with his shin. It was a clean, and true goal. At that moment, it seemed the Sounders were indeed a new blood to the League. They had again scored in the first 20 minutes and the force seemed with them, and Salt Lake seemed like the past.


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