Blaise Nkufo's surprising departure from Sounders FC created a spot in the starting lineup for O'Brian White to make his Seattle debut.
At least twice in the Sounders’ opener, the Jamaican forward would find the ball at his feet close in front of the goal mouth, and in each case, he would fail to convert.
Those were just two of a number of chances that Seattle would squander on a rainy Tuesday at Qwest Field, and each would come back to bite the Sounders in a season-opening, 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
“Obviously, I think he’ll be the first to say he’s disappointed,” third-year midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “He had some good chances, but that happens. I think he gave us a good outlet. He was moving. He kept the ball. He stayed strong up there. And he was on the pitch a very long time. As long as he was out there he was a threat. We’ve got to get used to him; he’s got to get used to us.”
The Galaxy’s lone goal came on the heels of an error by the other newcomer in the Sounders’ lineup: midfielder Erik Friberg, who was brought in from Sweden during the offseason.
In the 58th minute, Friberg, who made a reputation with his fine passing during the preseason, sent a bad one toward midfield where it was intercepted by Todd Dunivant. The Los Angeles defender sent the ball forward to Juninho, who fired a swerving sizzler in from the top of the penalty area, beating Kasey Keller at the near post.
“He got to the top of the box and smashed it in,” Keller said. “I know (coach Sigi Schmid) was a little disappointed that (Juninho is) a guy who has scored great goals against us before and we just didn’t make that effort to step up to that at the time. We got beat on a great goal, but at the same time, we had lots of chances.”
The goal was the first that Seattle had surrendered in its three MLS First Kick appearances, and it resulted in their first opening-night loss.
It also was Los Angeles’ fifth consecutive win over Seattle in league play.
“The Galaxy, I thought, were dangerous all night on the counterattack,” Schmid said. “That’s the way they were playing: Beckham and Donovan were cheating a little bit defensively and had opportunities to counter. ... A tie, I think probably would have been a fair result, but it is what it is. I thought the effort was good tonight. I thought the soccer at times was good. It still can get better, but that’s a coach talking.”
White played last season in Toronto, was taken by Vancouver in the expansion draft, and acquired by Seattle in a trade. Friberg was signed as a free agent from Sweden.
Schmid said he had known since a meeting with Nkufo a couple of days ago that the club and its starting forward would part company. However, his players said it still provided an unwanted opening-night distraction.
“If this happens five or six weeks ago, you have time to replace him, where that kind of left us a little high and dry, which is a little frustrating,” Keller said. “But we have a good squad. It’s not about people who aren’t here, or people who don’t want to be here. It’s about the team that’s here and the team that stepped on the field today, and the team that stepped on the field today did enough to get a result.”
In addition to the newcomers, the Sounders’ opening lineup also included Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who was making his first start since suffering an ACL tear last May. Zakuani recovered well enough from a preseason hip injury to answer the opening whistle. Coming on for White in the 73rd minute was Lamar Neagle of Federal Way in his MLS debut.
The game was played before a crowd of 36,433, the largest to watch the Sounders in an MLS match at Qwest.
The club returns to action Saturday at New York.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer