[MLS SPOTLIGHT] A few days after getting a vote of confidence from Sounders' management, Coach Sigi Schmid steered Seattle to its first win of the season, a 2-1 defeat of Chicago Saturday at Qwest Field -- thanks much to goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
Midfielders Mauro Rosales, Erik Friberg and Steve Zakuani more than made up for the absence of Fredy Montero, who missed his second straight game after undergoing wrist surgery. Playing in tandem with forward O’Brian White, who scored in his second straight game and also notched an assist, that trio cut apart the Fire back line to score in the 7th minute and again in the 25th after Chicago equalized.
Yet the Sounders’ own back line has yet to solidify, and twice within a few minutes and the score 2-1, keeper Kasey Keller bailed out his defenders with superb saves. He dived low to his left to palm away a Diego Chaves shot from point-blank range, and a few minutes later came off his line to kick away Gaston Puerari’s breakaway chance.
The sudden departure of Blaise Nkufo just hours before the season opener and Montero’s recent injury have put Seattle’s attack under the spotlight as the cause of a slow start (1-2-2), and such was certainly the case when it opened the season with a pair of 1-0 losses (to the Galaxy and Red Bulls.)
Yet its defense has yet to post a shutout as center back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado works his way back to fitness. Last year, Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni took over in the middle for Hurtado (torn ACL) and Tyrone Marshall (poor form); this season, with Marshall gone to Colorado, Schmid has used both Ianni and Parke alongside Hurtado to limited success.
Chavez, who had equalized for Chicago on a nice feed from Patrick Nyarko, nearly scored again when the Sounders failed to clear a deflected free kick, but Keller thrilled the sellout crowd with a cat-quick reaction save. On his breakaway, promoted by a Seattle turnover in midfield, Puerari glided past Hurtado but Keller thwarted the Fire forward in classic fashion: controlled approach to narrow the angle, good balance in his crouch as the ball was struck along the turf, solid block with the right foot. Again, the crowd roared in appreciation.
Last week, ghastly giveaways by center mids Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alsonso provided San Jose with opportunities it converted. Keller couldn’t quite keep out Khari Stephenson’s spectacular 35-yard strike that wound up in the top corner off the keeper’s glove and knotted the game at 2-2. He also bobbled and/or flapped at a couple of crosses that a keeper of his experience and reputation is expected to handle cleanly.
On Saturday, with his coach and teammates under pressure, Keller regained top form, and his team got its first victory.