The Sounders have themselves in a weird spot — they have no humor. They are supposed to win, supposed to score, supposed to be something. And they are. But having no humor has left them stiff and strained, pressing and, most dreaded of all, doubtful. Soccer is not played well under such clouds — it involves too much rhythm, too much confidence, too much surety, too much humor. To be played well, it must be played with spirit and not simply intent and will.
Some of this poor humor must route to the coach Sigi Schmid, some to GM Adrian Hanauer and some, some of it, just to the joint, this Seattle, this striverland of bloggers and programmers and marketers and manipulators and market watchers. No one accuses Microsoft or Starbucks or Amazon of humor. This a sports town with ample reputation for dour coaches, the monosyllabled Don James or Chuck Knox, famed and poor-humored wardens of NW football.
Whatever the case, the Sounders have it. Even the Portland Timbers coach noticed, mocking the Sounders' excuses for their tie game here last weekend, Sigi claiming the wet field favored Portland. And well Portland's coach John Spencer should have mocked, for it was a dumb manager's answer from Sigi.
The Sounders have a tense stick up their butt and they even know it and however the cure, they should get over it. If they do find a way to let their players loose, it might even help the injuries that are all over the roster. They are playing stiff, a fine recipe for pressing and pulling muscles.
At its perfection, soccer is a lovely concoction of small, brilliant, brave, and inventive acts, tiny pieces of elegance — a three-foot pass, a tip, a return, a second return, a pause. And for this, to do this, you must have all your stuff, all your graces. Seattle has lost their wondrous winger Zakuani to a broken leg, a break you could hear on the television. They will miss his speed but his humor, his laugh, as deeply. for many of their other pieces are more stern than wondrous.
For their Saturday eve match against Kansas City at Sounder Field, the Sounders did get Mauro Rosales back from injury. He has no breath but buoyant and no pace but whirling and it helped. For some reason, KC plays here as if it were their home field — they very nearly scored in the first moments, they kept their shape throughout, and they showed little doubt, especially for a club with the league's worst record. They were playing to keep the game close and it worked: neither side played much above the spirit of a soggy night. Even the turf looked drearier than usual. The XBOX graphics at field level seemed like Mario Brothers pornography.
Last year, at this same time, KC lost in the ember moments of stoppage time when then-rookie Mike Fucito scored on a throw-in. To that moment, the game had been just punches thrown by both sides. Last night, same damn thing, this time scoring on a corner kick, a minute and a half into stoppage. Seattle defender Jeff Parke did all of the shopping to get this goal. First, he hit up the referee Geoff Gamble, who had had a moralist's night of decisions, for a favor, "yo, ref, my guy is holding me." Then he whispered to his guy, the ref's watching you! Then he cut tightly past his partner defender Hurtado and was free for one moment. enough for the cross to hit him. His header was just inside the right goalpost, not a zinger but in.
Parke is a stern fellow and a very stern defender but that header goal, for the win and with no time left, that goal lit Parke up like a winner take all and it was a pleasure to see. The boys were mates, soccer had filled many hearts and broken a couple.
It has been an awkward year for Jeff Parke. He has started some games, and sat out some games. When he and Hurtado play together at the back, the two Alpha dogs, it has not been quite clear. But on this night, it was better, the relation of the two, and if it gets very good, the Sounders will then be feared, for these two can close down an offense. Both men are accustomed to power and both are extemely proud and stubborn. When they become a force together, then Sigi can tinker with the next task, getting the ball upfield.
You will know much more about these Sounders on Wednesday evening, when they host FC Dallas, a team as hot as KC was cold, a team that has won five straight games, a fast, lively team that will not be coming for a tie. Take the strings off, Sigi, let the Sounders loose to play, and to play soccer, and let us see more clearly how good they are.