By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
SEATTLE — For 51 straight games, the Seattle Sounders had been like clockwork: When they scored first, they didn’t lose.
That unbeaten run dating to 2010 ended Saturday at CenturyLink Field, as the Sounders took an early 1-0 lead but couldn’t hold it, losing 2-1 to the Columbus Crew on a goal late in stoppage time.
Seattle had jumped ahead on a Kenny Cooper goal in the 22nd minute. However, Columbus equalized in the 59th minute on a Federico Higuain penalty kick.
Seattle played shorthanded from there, and stayed even to within seconds of the final whistle, when Justin Meram fired past the disorganized Sounders defense.
“We just didn’t react well enough,” said Seattle central defender Chad Marshall, who had played his previous 10 seasons with Columbus. “They had been playing it pretty quickly all night, and unfortunately we feel asleep there on the last kick of the game and it kills us. So, it’s frustrating.”
Seattle took its lead after Lamar Neagle deflected a Columbus pass. Obafemi Martins quickly knocked the ball forward to Cooper, who took it just across the center line and carried to the top of the penalty area, where he seemed to survey his passing options before knocking the ball wide of Columbus goalkeeper Steve Clark.
“When you intercept passes, you can get at them pretty quickly and the flank areas are open because their outside backs are up so high,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “Obviously, we got the goal off that kind of play.”
Seattle had other chances, too: another by Cooper, a couple more by Neagle. But they either missed or were stopped by Clark, who made five saves.
“It’s going to be on my mind all night and all (Sunday),” Neagle said. “If I put a couple of those chances away — I had plenty — then it’s a completely different story. They’re deflated, they’re out of it; they’re away from home and we’re up two. So, yeah, it’s frustrating.”
Columbus pulled even on a sequence that began with Djimi Traore fouling Dominic Oduro in front of the Seattle goal. Traore was sent off with a straight red card, and Higuain nailed his PK.
The score remained even until the fourth minute of stoppage time, when Meram’s goal ended the Sounders’ 40-0-11 run in games when they scored the first goal.
“Certainly the penalty kick and a red card becomes a crucial play,” Schmid said. “And then at that point – they’re a pretty good possession team – it becomes a little bit harder to chase it. Even then we got forward a couple of times. But then at the very end of the game, we didn’t react well. I have an issue with the referee, but we didn’t react well.”
Schmid’s complaint with referee Allen Chapman was that he was near the 6-yard box and still talking to Sounders when the final penalty kick was taken.
“If you’re going to talk to our players, then stop the play,” Schmid said. “But that doesn’t make an excuse for us falling asleep. Still more guys needed to pay attention there so we don’t get caught.”
Columbus moved to 3-0 for the first time in club history, while Seattle fell to 2-2.
“We’ll look for the positives,” Marshall said. “I thought before the penalty kick we were fine, we were doing all right. So we’ll look at the positives, learn from the mistakes. Obviously we have a big game coming up this weekend, so we have to learn from it and just move on.”
The Sounders begin a three-game road trip Saturday at Portland (0-2-2).