It was a crowded Saturday for sports in Seattle and all of it was first cabin. The Yankees were here, favorites again to win the World Series. On this day they would pound the Mariners with their high priced spread but it was an only victory as Ichiro, Junior, and Felix would own or swipe the other two games.
USC was here, the Trojans, number 3 in college football, the Trojans with their horses and gold colors and cheerleaders and high school All Americans, fresh from the glory of a last second drive that left Ohio State dun and dulled. The Huskies, finally over their notion that any good leader should look military, picked the Trojan offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian for their new coach. They gave him a million dollars for the year and the keys to the worst team in Division 1 football. Sarkisian is Armenian, his dad was born and raised in Tehran, his mom is Irish and he is the youngest of seven kids and that is likely enough to help with the mess he inherited, a team dispirited, abused, deceived, betrayed, and overweight. The gift of a human. So Sarkisian's new team beats USC in the last seconds 16-13. Had he known this score, he would have beaten LSU a couple weeks earlier.
And in the middle of all this high-end Saturday company, the Sounders played their division rival Chivas, a team they have never beaten, a team right at their neck in the Western Division standings, a win they needed to win. The usual 32,000 full house skirted down to Sounder Stadium at noon to help. Noon is a lousy time for a game, especially one as physical as soccer — the muscles are not at full pitch and some of the elegance is not there. There was no one in the bus tunnel heading down there 30 minutes before and a long drizzle walking over to the field, but the Sounders have a perfect record with the weather. Even that their season began in March, it has always stopped raining before kickoff and resumed afterward. Somehow, by the National Anthem, the place was full.
Seattle brought all of its will and little of the rest of its luck to the game. They have not scored a goal in Sounder Stadium since July, despite some pounding efforts. They tied Toronto FC 0-0 in a game that ended with six shots on goal. They even missed an open net in the Barcelona exhibit. They are impacted. The coaches are shaking their heads like nurses.
It did not help that Chivas has the top ranked keeper in the league, Zach Thornton. Nor that Chivas is a brave and talented team. Their full name is Club Deportivo Chivas USA — it is a bravery to even have such a name in this Anglo land.
Chivas is very quick and in the first minutes, Seattle would play back to Kasey Keller four times in a row, unable to clear the midfield defense. Freddie Ljungberg was back from yellow card jail and he took the first Seattle corner kick at the 6:00 minute — a low cross, then a retry slightly higher, then another even higher. But it was too early.
Finally, two minutes later, he got the game started by chasing, catching, and pummeling the All-star Chivas defenseman Bornstein. Game on. Two minutes later, he would cut down to the right corner and unleash a long high cross, past the goal, too high for the keeper. Zakuani headed it back to the middle and Sebastien Le Toux caught the first bounce and blasted goalward.
That should have been it, bam, bam, BAM. It was a perfect, even venomous strike but it was too much at Thornton and he deflected it. And maybe that is the madness of not scoring, wanting the goal that will break the spell to be a furious blast. Whatever the case, Sounders have pounded keepers for two months now. At Sounder Stadium, suddenly every goalie has the game of his life.
Every soccer team that comes to Seattle knows if they let the game get away, it will run loose. Had Le Toux scored, this game would have opened like a saga. Instead, Chivas gulped, whewed, and clamped down even harder. Ljungberg sensed the tightening and countered with his particular brand of hunting defensemen. By halftime, Seattle had six shots and four corner kicks, Chivas had one corner and one shot: Chivas was playing either for the tie or one single goal.
Seattle came out for the second half in a fury to score and nearly did, on a Zakuani header, Thornton just clipping the ball. The Sounders have only one home game left, they will play three matches on the road, they are essentially tied with six other teams, four of them with perhaps better schedules, Sounder Stadium has been chosen to host the Championship match, whether Seattle gets there or not. Every Sounder wants to be in that final match. At the 71st minute, Chivas defender Saragosa flew into Fredy Montero with one leg up, the cleat catching Montero on the chin. It was not a vicious challenge but it was a red card Chivas. Seattle would now be a man up, so they did not need to fear the quick feet of Chivas and they began their march to get one goal.
There were several agonizing chances, none more than Montero's, who smashed a volley at Thornton — but perhaps it will not be a smash that ends this. Whatever the case, Seattle launched every missile it could muster for 24 more minutes and even Ljungberg, the very core of relentless, could finally present nothing more than stretched flat on the pitch. The game ends 0-0. It looks even worse afterward when only the idiotic nylon confetti is left on the field, having been there all the game, a mockery of efforts given. That confetti is a tribute only to some marketers who could not possibly have been there or they would have seen its embarrassing inappropriateness.
Seattle now goes on an all Saturday schedule: this weekend to New England, then Columbus, then Kansas City, and back home for a final game with Dallas. Every game will matter and every game will wager six months of work and dreams. They dragged one point out of the tie with Chivas, but they may have also learned something. Chivas has many talents. They clearly exposed a Sounder weakness for making lousy passes and needlessly giving up possession. There were moments on Saturday when Seattle was not a very good team and they all involved that famous Barcelona weapon, the pass.
If Coach Sigi can get that rope tied down, the Sounders will be a fair challenge to being the true hosts of the MLS Finals.