Despite opening loss, Sounders aiming to rise above rest of MLS

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comMarch 3, 2013 

It was foresighted of all those Seattle Sounders FC fans to show up wearing their scarves for the cold, rainy 2013 season-opener against Montreal on Saturday night at CenturyLink Field.

Oh, right, they wear the Sounders scarves regardless of the weather. It’s a symbol of being a member of what might be the most vocal, theatrical and elaborately choreographed fan base of any North American sporting franchises.

The fans were part of the story again Saturday night when they established expectations for the season before the first kick in the Sounders’ 1-0 loss.

This time, they unfurled a giant banner spanning the south end’s lower bowl. It showed a Sounders player climbing atop a pile of players from the other Major League Soccer Western Conference teams.

The message, in 20-foot letters: “Rise Above.”

That’s the goal for 2013, to stretch their success into the postseason and advance to the conference final or beyond.

And although the team is a young group, missing some familiar faces, this is a season when many are expecting the product on the field to more closely match the level of support in the stands.

But this time, there is no Fredy Montero, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, who is on loan to a team in Colombia. It’s a year-long transaction, but it’s easy to see the loan as an indicator that Montero is not a part of the Sounders’ future. That he played in 10 playoff games for the Sounders without scoring a goal could be a factor in his expendability.

And Saturday, three-time team MVP Osvaldo Alonso was sidelined by a suspension for a red card in the Sounders’ final playoff game last season.

The Impact scored the only goal it needed in the 35th minute when team captain Davy Arnaud flopped the ball over the reach of Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning as if with a delicate lob wedge.

There’s still some roster drama to be played out as speculation holds that the Sounders will soon sign Nigerian Obafemi Martins, property of Valencia in Spain’s La Liga. The Sounders would be on the hook for a hefty $4 million exit fee, aside from having to come to terms on a contract with Martins.

Martins would be the Sounders’ third and final designated player, and would represent a major investment toward the playoff success that has eluded them. Spending that kind of change would be a convincing display of the Sounders’ commitment.

MLS commissioner Don Garber addressed the media at halftime. Aside from admitting that his office botched some recent handling of an issue involving the Cascadia Cup, a competition among Seattle, Vancouver and Portland that is independent from MLS, he stressed the league’s goal to be among the world’s top professional soccer leagues in 10 years.

The Sounders are certainly a league standard-bearer in terms of fan support and business success. Last season, they set the league attendance mark for the fourth consecutive year with an average of 43,144. How good is that? It would be No. 4 in Spain’s La Liga.

Saturday, 38,998 convened on a lousy night, and, typically, most were on their feet for the full 90 minutes.

The Sounders dominated possession but couldn’t find the net. Brad Evens bonked one off a post in the 66th minute, and Eddie Johnson took a slick pass from Alex Caskey in the 80th minute, only to hit the crossbar.

A bright spot, though, was newcomer DeAndre Yedlin, a homegrown defender, only 19, who played with conspicuous energy and aggressiveness.

The 1-0 loss sent the crowd home disappointed as well as drenched.

Still, it’s fair to think it will take time for this Sounders group to mature and to mesh, and that could make this whole rising-above thing something of a process.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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