Seattle came into this match having two points in four matches and no wins, despite playing the better side in three of the four matches. Despite all the energy and creativity, there appeared to be a wall in front of the opposing goal.
Chicago, on the other hand, had four points in two matches, looking to put its bid in as a top team in the MLS. The Fire tore up its roster and made 16 changes in the offseason, looking for the right combination to take it back to the playoffs that it missed for the first time in team history last year.
The match was a physical battle from the opening whistle, the first foul coming 18 seconds in against Sounders forward Mauro Rosales, substituting for an injured and unavailable Fredy Montero, against Fire center back Dasan Robinson. That opened up the flood gates, leading to a lot of chipping and clipping. Chicago, particularly Diego Chaves, did enough flopping and rolling around to earn awards in the Italian League or even a tryout for Manchester United.
That led to two yellow cards against the Sounders in the first half and one in the second from the MLS version of the NFL’s referee Ed “Guns” Hocheli, Hilario Grajeda. I have to give credit to Grajeda, he called a good game. Although I didn’t agree with some of his decisions, and who ever does, I felt he had a difficult match to preside over and would err on the side of letting play continue.
Seattle opened the scoring six minutes in with a beautiful header by O’Brian White on a cross by Mauro Rosales. The ball came off of White’s head and looked well wide of the goal. Chicago keeper Sean Johnson must have thought so as well because he barely moved as the ball curled just inside the right hand post.
Before the fans had finished celebrating, the Fire had evened thing up again with a nice goal when Diego Chaves beat Jeff Parke and launched a cross box shot that had Sounders keeper Kasey Keller lunging in the wrong direction.
Seattle kept up the fight and was rewarded in the 25th minute on a give-and-go play between Steve Zakuani and O’Brian White. Zakuani got the ball back from White at full speed and in stride, blew past Chicago’s rookie defender Jalil Anibaba and stuck the ball in the corner of the net as the Fire keeper Johnson had to respect Erik Friberg coming into the box at the back post and the cross possibility.
After the halftime break, the Fire kept the pressure up, looking for the equalizer. Already a physical event, the match took on prison yard elements of fouls and retaliations.
Seattle didn’t wilt though and thanks to some brilliant keeping by Keller, Seattle finally broke through on the win category and got the full three points so desperately needed, even so early in the season.
Man of the Match
Several Sounders had great games and deserve to be honored, but the winner has to be Kasey Keller. He showed once again why Seattle didn’t even consider a different option in net before the season. Although Chicago got one in to spoil the clean sheet, I doubt very highly that there are many keepers who could have kept the shot by Chaves out.
Though he only had four saves to make, three of them came in a brutal seven-minute barrage. Keller looked brilliant, putting on a clinic when he denied Firemen Chaves in the 59th minute, Gaston Puerari in the 61st minute and Marco Pappa in the 66th. Keller showed none of his age and had me wondering if he has a couple of more years left in him. At 41 years old, he showed the young 24-year-old Fire keeper what a veteran goalie can do.
Despite, or maybe because of the physicality of the play, this was an excellent match to watch. Both teams played an open, exciting game that kept attacking. It was a wonderful display of soccer played by two very good teams. I’m looking forward to the rematch when Seattle travels to Chicago on June 4.
Coming up next for the Sounders is a road trip first to Philadelphia to take on the Union and then to Colorado before returning to Seattle to face Toronto FC on April 30.
The Union has started off hot, winning three of its first four matches to get nine points and lead the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia topped the New York Red Bulls last night, 1-0.
Photo credits for White and Keller photos: John Lok of the Seattle Times