By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — Just when it appeared that a scrappy, foul-infested season-opener was going to end as a scoreless tie, a messy sequence in the box ended with the ball at the feet of Seattle Sounders forward Chad Barrett, who knocked home the game-winner with a falling-down effort he described as “the white guy’s bicycle kick.”
Barrett’s goal, which came four minutes into stoppage time to give the Sounders a 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City, was the perfect way to close out a game in the mind of Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, not just because it gave his team a win, but because it allowed the Sounders to do something he had preached all offseason.
“One of the things we talked about going into the season is that we’re going to be the kind of team would fight and scratch and do everything we can until the very end of the game, and I think today was a good snapshot of that,” Schmid said. “The guys continued to fight and battle.”
It’s not that the Sounders came into the 2014 season hoping to play ugly soccer; they still want to play an attractive, attacking brand of the game. And the buildup to Saturday’s game-winning goal — starting with Osvaldo Alonso winning the ball at midfield, continuing with his pass to Clint Dempsey, who then found rookie Sean Okoli on the flank, who curled a dangerous cross into the box — was a nice sequence of play from Seattle.
But in addition to winning with the considerable talent Seattle has on its roster, Schmid wants this team to have, to borrow from the vocabulary of Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, the kind of grit that can make the difference between being a good team and a championship one. The Sounders had talent in 2013, enough that they should have advanced further in the playoffs than they did. However, that team might not have had what it took to turn a sloppy tie into a victory over the defending champs.
There were plenty of reasons behind Seattle’s busy offseason — some moves were salary-cap related, others were simply made to upgrade talent, while others were made with an eye on locker room chemistry. One of the big things Schmid wanted was to create a team full of players who would fight for each other until the final whistle.
“There’s definitely more fight (on this year’s team),” midfielder Brad Evans said. “Not to say that there wasn’t fight before, but it’s just a different group, and it is what it is. But this is the group that we’ve got now, and we pulled out a 90th-minute result.
“It’s something that (Schmid) emphasized throughout the whole preseason; we’re going to be a team that fights, battles, claws 90th minute no matter what the case is. No hands going up in the air, no bitching, no moaning, no complaining, that’s going to be our M.O. this year. That’s what we’re striving to do together.”
“No bitching, no moaning, no complaining” might not show up on a Sounders T-shirt anytime soon, but it’s the perfect slogan for a team trying to make a disappointing finish to 2013 a distant memory.
And yes, it’s silly to think a single moment from a single game can be a metaphor for an entire season that has yet to be played, but, well, the Sounders really hope that moment can be a metaphor for an entire season.
“You’ve got to have that if you want to win something,” said Dempsey, who came in as a 57th-minute sub since he had played 90 minutes for the U.S. national team on Wednesday. “It’s still early, but getting a goal in injury time does show that we’re fighting to the end. But it’s a long season, and I think your true character shows over time; it’s clawing your way back after conceding goals, and also being able to goals in the final few minutes. Hopefully we can do that this season.”
While the Sounders hope this is the beginning of a special season, there’s always the possibility that Saturday’s late-game magic had to do with the opponent. That’s not because Kansas City is a bad team — it’s the furthest thing from it — but because Seattle has made a habit of beating Sporting KC in the most crushing ways possible. Barrett’s goal marked the fifth time that Seattle has beaten Kansas City with a stoppage time goal, and the score was Seattle’s eighth goal in the final 15 minutes of action against KC.
“That’s kind of cruel and unusual against KC, but I really don’t care,” Barrett said after learning of his new team’s stoppage-time heroics against Kansas City. “I’m glad to be a part of that.”
And as Dempsey notes, none of this matters if the Sounders don’t keep it up. A season-opening win over the last year’s MLS Cup winner is great and all, but Seattle’s goals are focused on the postseason. Yes, Seattle needs regular-season success to get back in the playoffs and reach its championship goals, but if the Sounders are a tough, focused regular-season team that folds in the playoffs, nobody’s going to care much what they did on March 8.
So yes, this was just a start, but a pretty ideal one at that for the Sounders.
“That’s one of the reasons Sigi brought in so many new guys; he brought in guys who are going to fight for the team,” said right back DeAndre Yedlin. “It’s great to see, it was amazing to be a part of and to see everybody’s fight, and I think it’s something that’s going to carry us pretty far this year.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.