SEATTLE - Sounders FC combined a free-flowing first half Saturday with a second half that was a struggle.
But in the end, music blared in the happy locker room because the club did just enough for its first win of the season, 2-1 over the Chicago Fire.
After almost instantly losing an early 1-0 lead, the Sounders held their next one all the way to the final whistle, thanks largely to some spectacular saves by veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
Their reward was three points in the standings and enough confidence to think they might be able to build off what played out at Qwest Field before a crowd of 36,223.
“It feels good to get the first win,” forward O’Brian White said. “We came close a couple times in previous games, and we didn’t get the three points. Today, we finally got it. It feels good. We can use it for motivation and move forward.”
White opened the scoring in the seventh minute, heading in a cross from Mauro Rosales.
“He played a very good ball,” White said. “I just put it in the back of the net.”
However, the lead held only for about a minute, until a pair of Sounders defensive breakdowns opened the door for Chicago (1-1-1). First, defender Leo Gonzales was beaten on a pass deep in the Sounders’ defensive third, and then defender Jeff Parke fell in the box, allowing Diego Chaves to finish in front of the goal mouth.
“I thought the goal we gave up was a little soft, right after we scored the first goal,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “That’s something we need to do better on. A win’s a win. We got three points and get that monkey off our back a little bit.”
What proved to be the game-winner came in the 25th minute, when Steve Zakuani made a run down the left side and turned into the penalty area before beating keeper Sean Johnson to the near post.
That stood up only because Keller managed to make what Schmid called world-class saves against Chaves in the 59th minute, Gaston Puerari in the 61st minute and Marco Pappa in the 66th minute.
“He was clearly the man of the match and had great interventions,” Chaves said. “He was the key for Seattle’s victory.”
The Sounders (1-2-2) took the pitch with an unusual 4-3-3 that had White flanked by Zakuani and Erik Friberg. Mauro Rosales, who had started the week before in Fredy Montero’s usual forward spot, slipped back to midfield alongside Osvaldo Alonso, and Brad Evans. And Jhon Kennedy Hurtado regained his starting spot on the back line along with James Riley, Jeff Parke and Leo Gonzalez.
However, Schmid said there wasn’t a true change from the team’s usual 4-4-2 arrangement, simply a willingness to allow players the freedom to play to their strengths.
“Mauro does really well when he plays in space,” Schmid said. “Friberg, we gave him a little bit of a free roll from midfield and he started going some different places. And he did that. And Zakuani, we want to get him the ball a little more, and I don’t think we got it to him enough. We wanted O’Brian White to stay up top, and in the first half he did a great job. When you look at when they were attacking, there was always two guys back marking O’Brian White.”
The win was seen as especially important because the Sounders are about to leave for a pair of road games, at Philadelphia on Saturday and Colorado on April 22.
“We were able to hang on,” Keller said. “That’s a lot of confidence to move forward, and like I said we have two away games coming up but we’re a good away team and we enjoy that side of it, and I see no reason why we can’t be thinking at least four points in these next two games.”
The Sounders return home April 30 to face Toronto FC.