Seattle Sounders F.C.
The Sounders are coming back — they needed a second half. They did not show well in the spring; they mumbled and grumbled and suffered and it seemed a theme, "Waiting For Blaise," the wonderful Swiss striker they had signed. But Blaise Nkufo was not free until after the World Cup.
It is a very long season, this MLS, longer even than baseball, and baseball has been described as a walk across Africa. Baseball has a World Series but it is not the World. Soccer's World Cup is the World, and it trumps everyone, and everyone is pleased to be trumped. MLS shut itself down for two weeks and will do it again four years from now.
But now the World Cup is in Spain, and the MLS second half is in session. And Blaise Nkufo, is here, cleared and ready to play for Seattle. For every game in the spring, the Sounders played without a striker, since Nate Jaqua was sidelined with torn abdominal muscles. No striker is precisely that, a match without the white tip. Every opponent knew that the Sounders would be forced to take the long route to any goal.
Knowing a world class striker was due mid July, knowing your own Jaqua was not due even until then, the Sounders played with painful uncertainty. Playing with no striker broke their fabric, and no sport leans so heavily on fabric as soccer. Ljungberg appeared more as complainer than enacter. Even good fortune seemed ill at ease. When their best defender John Hurtado tore knee ligaments pursuing Chris Pontius, the DC midfielder who would score three times against Seattle in the mid-June game, it seemed a fair time to pack up, call in some nonsense like sophomore jinx, and mumble about Coach Sigi.
Against instinct, hold off on a few judgments, or you might miss the best Sounders yet. For two weeks, they have played better than any Sounders team in history. It is not even clear what happened. The Sounders knew they were in a ditch and the ditch looked remarkably like the Mariner's ditch. Maybe it was the World Cup, maybe watching multiple games and multiple styles, all in the name of each country, maybe that was the healer for the players, or for the management or Sigi or Brian.
Whatever the case, when the Sounders took the field against Dallas, and a week later against DC United, when they fielded a team of their youngsters — suddenly they became a particular force. And that is before Blaise was even cleared to play. Adding Nkufo to this team is like adding Miles Davis to the band: They both bring the elegance of timing.
The Sounders have never been a team of possession soccer, but suddenly they were holding the ball, loading and reloading, passing four yards and not 20. It is the style of the Spanish, the form of Barcelona, and perhaps that is what happened. And it may never be detailed, but the new young players for Seattle — Estrada, Montano, Montero, Seamon — they have the sense of it. Possession soccer takes an optimism, it is much more work than individual runs, and it succeeds by leaning on the opponent. That is how the Sounders are now leaning.
The Colorado Rapids are coming to Sounder Field this weekend, with their own Casey, and they sit ahead of the Sounders in league play. It will be a match of particular attention, for both clubs. Suddenly, the season seems a bit shorter. And quickened.
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