Seattle – Conventional wisdom said this is the time of year when Seattle Sounders FC would be hitting its stride.
As an expansion team, this collection of players was expected to need some time before melding into a cohesive unit as the season moved along.
But all that came into question Saturday with a scoreless draw against Toronto FC before a crowd of 32,679 at Qwest Field.
It was Seattle’s sixth non-win over its past seven league games. It was the fifth time the Sounders have been shut out over their last seven games. And it has now been 314 minutes since they scored a goal on their home pitch.
The team isn’t scoring or winning like it did in its infancy, and that led midfielder Freddie Ljungberg to offer a chilling theory.
“The only thing maybe I’m a little worried about is now this is the new franchise and people are looking at the numbers and getting a bit nervous about whether we’ll make the playoffs or not,” he said. “I do not know. We didn’t start well (Saturday).
“We played so well in Houston (last week) and had a great game there. And (Saturday) we started slowly. It might be nerves, I don’t know. A lot of these guys have never played with a lot of people and expectations, and we’re supposed to go to the playoffs.”
Seattle did its playoff quest no favors Saturday, managing one point at home against a rival postseason contender it defeated 2-0 in April. The Sounders (8-6-10) now have six games remaining in the regular season, four of those on the road.
Yet in a situation seeming to call for urgency, Seattle started with lethargy. Toronto (8-8-7) dominated early, as a series of one-on-one situations against goalkeeper Kasey Keller failed to pay off. And while the halftime scoreboard showed an even game, the stat sheet showed domination by the visitors: seven shots to Seattle’s two and 10 fouls to Seattle’s four.
“I thought the first half was the best 45 minutes we have played,” Toronto coach Chris Cummins said. “We had a lot of chances in the first half. We’re just unlucky: We hit the bar and a couple of balls just go wide. … We knew that they would come after us in the second half, and I thought we limited them as much as we could. … Seattle is a decent team, and this is a good point for us. We will take the point and then move on.”
The game reversed in the second half, when the Sounders got the better chances without cashing in. But after a far-longer-than-usual postgame meeting with coach Sigi Schmid, no one bothered to claim the Sounders deserved more than they got.
“I thought (Toronto) dominated the first half,” Schmid said. “We were lucky to be 0-0 at half. I felt the second half was better. We had two chances to steal the game at the end, which would have been nice. Obviously, I’m not pleased, and we could have played better. … This was not one of our top 10 of performances.”
Part of the frustration was that the Sounders’ early season win at Toronto clearly belongs high in their top 10. And so does their draw last week at league-leading Houston.
But deep in a playoff race and back in front of their home crowd Saturday, the Sounders couldn’t muster anything similar.
“We want to obviously be an attacking team that makes things exciting for our home fans,” Keller said. “That just hasn’t happened the last few games. I heard part of the press conference when Sigi said it’s something we need to truly find what’s going to work, and if it is going to hurt some people’s feelings, it’s tough. Everybody is thinking at this time of the year that you got to get your form right to go into playoffs.
“Right now, we are not even a playoff team. We don’t have that form to even make the playoffs. It’s something we need to change quickly.”
U.S. Open up next
Seattle gets an early chance to wash away any frustrations from its scoreless draw Saturday.
Come Wednesday, the Sounders will visit D.C. United while in search of their first trophy: the U.S. Open Cup.
“For this franchise, in its first year to get to a final is already a great accomplishment, but we don’t want to be satisfied with that,” Schmid said. “We want to come back with the Cup. To be the first expansion team since Chicago to win hardware in its first year is definitely a goal we have.”
The Open Cup is the American equivalent of England’s F.A. Cup – a competition open to clubs nationwide at all levels.
The first-year Sounders played their way into the tournament with wins over Real Salt Lake and Colorado, and then advanced with wins over Portland, Kansas City and Houston.
The final is set for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at RFK Stadium and will be nationally televised on Fox Soccer Channel.
Seattle and D.C. played to a 3-3 draw in their only previous meeting, a June 17 league game at Qwest Field.
The Sounders will be without Ljungberg when MLS play resumes Sept. 12 at D.C. United.
Ljungberg got in a scuffle with Toronto’s Dwayne De Rosario in the 73rd minute Saturday, and both players were given cautions for unsporting behavior.
It was Ljungberg’s fifth yellow card of the season, mandating a one-game suspension.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808