Seattle – In all of Major League Soccer there may not be a team you want to concede an opening goal to less than San Jose.
Under even normal circumstances, the Earthquakes are most comfortable tucked into a defensive shell. Give them a lead to protect, and the task of working a ball past all those black jerseys and into the net becomes even more difficult.
Yet, despite that most basic of scouting reports, Sounders FC came out casually Saturday, conceded an early goal and never managed an equalizer on their way to a 1-0 loss before a crowd of 35,953 at Qwest Field.
“The game was lost in the first 10 minutes,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “… After that, we decided to play. When you give a team a goal on the road, it becomes tough. So then we were chasing the whole time. Again, it’s the same story: create chances, but didn’t finish.”
That has become a Sounders’ theme so regularly that there was more concern than consolation over their statistical domination: 18 shots to San Jose’s three, three shots on goal to San Jose’s one.
That one on-target shot was all the Quakes needed.
It came in the 11th minute, and half of San Jose’s field players figured in: Bobby Convey sent his throw-in to Joey Gjertsen, a Tacoman and former star at The Evergreen State College, who crossed the ball into the penalty area, where Brandon McDonald headed it on to Bobby Burling, who headed it on to Chris Wondolowski, who finished at the far post.
And with that, San Jose had the only offense it would need, because goalkeeper Joe Cannon went on to register his fourth consecutive shutout.
“I think the team is having the mentality of not conceding a goal,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. “It runs through the team that we don’t want to get beat and we don’t want to get scored on. Seattle should have scored a goal, but they didn’t; and I guess that is a little bit lady luck at the moment.”
Afterward, the Sounders weren’t interested in talking about luck.
Their record is 3-4-3 one-third of the way through the MLS season. That kind of record will not get them into the playoffs. And after a longer-than-usual postgame address to his team, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid had a long list of questions.
“We all need to look inside ourselves and ask ourselves why it took us 10-15 minutes before we start playing,” he said. “I think we have to look at ourselves as to why we spend game time to argue insistently with referees. We’ve got to ask ourselves why, if a guy hits a bad pass, why we sometimes throw up our hands and stop playing for a second. I think we have to ask ourselves why if we lose a ball we don’t react right away and make a second and third effort. … All of us … need to ask ourselves why we can’t do it better.”
Schmid allowed that things should improve soon, when Nate Jaqua returns from injury, providing a big target in front of the goal that the team has lacked. And then they should improve again after the World Cup, when striker Blaise Nkufo arrives.
Schmid also implied things might have been better Saturday if Brad Evans hadn’t been lost to a knee bruise.
However, Schmid also left an unmistakable message: If the solution isn’t on the current roster, the Sounders will do their best to find a solution elsewhere.
“We’re looking at all those options,” he said. “Ours is a league where you have to subtract before you can add. Certainly, in the new (collective bargaining agreement) there’s a lot of guaranteed contracts, so it’s not like you’re a European team or you’re a South American team where you go ‘OK, we’re going to take our roster from 24 to 25 or 26.’ You don’t have those options.
“But there’s no stones that we’re going to leave unturned. … If we can make our team better, we’ve got to look at that option.”