[MLS] It took 260 minutes for Seattle to score its first goal of 2011, and with that Steve Zakuani tally in the 80th minute the Sounders managed a 1-1 tie with Houston Friday night at Qwest Field. The abrupt departure of Designated Player Blaise Nkufo just hours before the season opener March 15 certainly weakened the Seattle front line. Yet in its first two matches – a 2-0 loss to the Galaxy at home and a 1-0 defeat in New York – the Sounders' midfield also sputtered.
Strong midfield work against the Dynamo by Zakuani, Brad Evans, Oswaldo Alonso and Erik Friberg reversed that trend.
Friberg, playing smart and effective soccer despite playing on turf slickened by a downpour, added punch to attack from the right flank and maintained his influence in the middle when recently signed Argentine midfielder Mauro Rosales took over on the right flank. Oswaldo shouldered his usual mountain of work all over the field, and Zakuani – who sat out the Red Bulls game after aggravating a groin strain in the opener – worked the wing effectively and also occasionally knifed towards goal. Evans -- limited by injury to just 12 games last year – came back into the lineup after missing first two matches and contributed 70 solid minutes before Rosales replaced him.
Sitting out the game entirely was Designated Player Alvaro Fernandez, who with the arrival of Rosales faces another challenger, along with Friberg, for playing time on the right side or in the middle. The return of Evans unquestionably boosted Seattle’s midfield, as his range and workrate and experience complements the other players, regardless of their strengths or styles, and Fernandez may benefit from his presence when they get on the field together.
It appears Rosales and Friberg have more quickly accepted the more direct, sometimes hurly-burly style of many MLS matches than Fernandez, who at times has failed to cope with the pressure and pace. Coach Sigi Schmid could of course use Fernandez in certain spots, but not many teams can afford the luxury of a DP who only fits certain opponents or competitions.
The Sounders get another good test this weekend when they travel to San Jose, which lost its opener at home to Real Salt Lake, 1-0, in a monsoon and thumped FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park last weekend with two goals by Chris Wondolowski. How Seattle copes with Wondo will be critical to the game’s outcome, yet the Quakes have also altered their formation and added Tottenham on-loan attacking mid Simon Dawkins, which presents different problems for Schmid and whomever he chooses to play in midfield.