To say the Seattle Sounders have not met expectations is an understatement.
Seven games into the 2010 season, the team that many liked to make it to the MLS Cup final is in last place in the competitive Western Conference.
The team’s leading scorer in 2009, Fredy Montero, was benched. The defense that allowed the fewest goals in the league last season had allowed multiple goals against in three of the past four games and a horrid four goals against in their previous matchup against MLS points leader Los Angeles Galaxy.
And one of the few teams currently making a profit gave its season ticket holders a refund after the L.A. drubbing.
Still, Saturday night saved some light in what has been a mostly dark season.
The Sounders beat the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena—where New York had yet to lose, including preseason and U.S. Open Cup games—1-0 on a 85th minute goal from Montero.
The victory not only stopped a four-game winless streak but gives the team a new sense of optimism.
Firstly, the benching of Montero might have finally woke him up.
He has been ineffective this season. He had become complacent in the starting 11 and many have said that he looks disinterested and possibly distracted by a potential move to Europe.
However, his five-minute performance against the Red Bulls shows that he seemed to understand that he needs to earn his spot in the lineup. Montero was active and pressured the Red Bulls defense, namely center back Mike Petke and goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul.
His goal not only gave the team much-needed three points, but also was a nice change of pace for a team that has had enormous difficulty finishing all season. The Sounders had only scored one goal in their previous three games.
More promising was the overall effort the team gave.
The last meeting between the two teams saw the Sounders outshoot the Red Bulls 17-10 yet get shutout.
With the four-game winless streak, playing on the road against a team that hadn’t lost on their own turf, and again outshooting them but not being able to put the ball in the back of the net, it would have been easy for the Sounders to give up and settle for the draw.
They didn’t though. The defense held strong and Montero injected new life to the team and they came away with a very big road win.
Now the team will catch another break in the form of the World Cup.
The United States will begin their pre-World Cup training camp soon, which means players named to the preliminary roster will go missing from their MLS clubs. The league will play through the training camps and up until the beginning of the World Cup before it goes on hiatus during group play.
The Sounders however will not lose any players from their roster. They will remain at full-strength.
Compare that to the Galaxy, who suffered a disappointing draw against Toronto FC on Saturday, who will be without MLS leading-scorer Edson Buddle for at the period throughout training camp, and will lose captain Landon Donovan for the entirety of the United States’ run through the tournament.
It is a perfect opportunity for Seattle to make up lost ground.
The win does not fix Seattle’s problems. It does however provide a glimmer of hope.
If the team can gain some confidence and momentum from this victory then, in a league where parity is rewarded, they can still live up to lofty preseason expectations.