Seattle—the Emerald City based in the Pacific Northwest, famed for coffee, grunge music, Pike Place Market, and the Space Needle—could soon be adding to its list of attractions with the name of Seattle Sounders FC.
Granted, we are only 90 minutes into the new Major League Soccer season, but the statement of intent laid down by Sigi Schmid’s expansion team in their 3-0 destruction of New York Red Bulls, last season’s beaten MLS Cup finalists, could not have been any more emphatic.
Scoring goals is the hardest part of the game, and players who have been cobbled together for a first tilt at America’s top level habitually struggle in this department.
San Jose Earthquakes took until their sixth game last year to notch their third goal. Toronto waited until their ninth game in 2007 to achieve the feat.
Seattle required a mere 75 minutes.
The outstanding performer on opening night was Colombian international Fredy Montero. The 21-year-old forward claimed last year’s Golden Boot award in his home country while playing for Deportivo Cali. He started his loan spell in MLS in a similar vein, with two impressive strikes.
Montero is exactly the sort of player that this league should be trying to attract; a young, raw, developing talent, reared in the soccer hotbed of South America, who is desperate to become established at the professional level.
The 32,523 fans that created a euphonic sea of green inside Qwest Field this evening were certainly excited by his repertoire of skills.
The hosts’ first meaningful attack on 11 minutes resulted in Montero opening the scoring.
Three players combined to work the ball across the face of New York’s penalty area, before Frenchman Sébastien Le Toux found Montero alone near the right corner of the box. The youngster steadied himself before steering a low drive beyond Red Bulls goalkeeper Danny Cepero’s despairing dive.
Nate Jaqua had a chance to double the lead four minutes later, when he launched his rangy frame at Sanna Nyassi’s cross, but the former Houston Dynamo striker saw his flick drift agonisingly beyond Cepero’s far post.
With the excitable 52-member Sound Wave marching band, created at the behest of part-owner Drew Carey, setting the tempo in the stands, the Sounders continued their lively offensive spell and made it 2-0 on 25 minutes.
Montero received a throw-in on the left before angling a precise reverse pass into the path of the on-rushing Brad Evans.
The former Columbus midfielder burst into the penalty area undetected and drilled his low shot through the legs of the wretchedly exposed Cepero.
New York were now in disarray after looking the more composed outfit in the opening 10 minutes. Even during their promising start, the Red Bulls were stifled in the final third by the industry of Seattle’s midfield.
When the Sounders regained possession, they quickly piled three or four players into New York’s penalty area to leave the visitors’ back line overwhelmed.
Red Bulls head coach Juan Carlos Osorio tried to stem the green tide by replacing the embattled Andrew Boyens with Jeremy Hall on 34 minutes.
Siniša Ubiparipović, Osorio's swamped defensive midfielder, lasted until half-time before making way for Danleigh Borman.
The pattern in the second half remained consistent, despite Osorio’s reorganising, as Seattle asphyxiated any attempted Red Bull charges. This particular brand of energy drinks supposedly gives its consumers wings, but it was the men from a city renowned for its coffee companies that appeared to be infused with a caffeine rush.
Londoner Steve Zakuani, the first pick in January’s Superdraft of college players, made his professional debut when he replaced the zestful Nyassi on 68 minutes. He almost scored with his first touch four minutes later.
Montero’s legerdemain saw him wriggle free from two New York players on the right flank before releasing Evans on the overlap. His low cross was deflected behind Zakuani, but the former Arsenal youth player still forced Cepero to make a smart save from his shot on the turn.
New York inflicted further damage upon themselves on 75 minutes when Mike Petke dwelled on the ball just inside his own half. Montero quickly seized upon the defender’s poor touch to steal possession and race clear on Cepero.
A confident shimmy by Montero sent the goalkeeper to ground before the Colombian cemented his Man of the Match display with a composed finish high into the top corner.
All that remained was for Schmid to withdraw his ace in injury time to allow the fervent home support to roar their appreciation. Even they could not have envisioned such an impressive start.
The pleasant surprise led to chants of “We’re so good it’s unbelievable,” as the referee brought proceedings to a close and fireworks lit up the night sky.
If this is the shape of things to come in MLS in 2009—with the addition of franchises in Philadelphia, Vancouver, and Portland in the next two years—then North American soccer fans are in for a real treat.