By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders’ season opener was a slap in the face.
At least that’s how head coach Sigi Schmid described it, and goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, too. And when that’s the consensus in the locker room, well, it’s safe to assume things didn’t go too well for the home team, which fell to the Montreal Impact 1-0 Saturday night in front of 38,998 at CenturyLink Field.
That was hardly what the Sounders, who fancy themselves title contenders, had in mind when they opened their fifth season in Major League Soccer.
“Any time you get slapped in the face like this, hopefully you rise from that and you become a little more determined, a little more motivated, a little more focused,” Schmid said.
The Sounders enjoyed an encouraging February, which included winning the preseason Desert Diamond Cup in Arizona. The hope was that the momentum would carry over, even if the team is still something of a work in progress because of new additions who aren’t quite game ready, and injuries and suspensions that had a few key players sidelined for the opener. But whatever momentum Seattle had coming into Saturday’s game was erased by one masterful shot off the foot of Montreal midfielder Davy Arnaud.
Seattle hopes this game is a wakeup call, not a sign of a rocky early season to come.
“It’s tough,” Gspurning said. “We had a bad game, we know this, and the only thing now is to look to the future and continue with hard work. Maybe it’s a good warning for us that the preseason is over. We got slapped in the face, and we have to say, ‘OK, we have to go to work and battle through it.’ It’s tough because it’s the home opener, everybody is expecting a win, the fans, the players, everybody, and then you lose. But that’s soccer, and the only thing is to look in the future.”
The loss was Seattle’s second in five season openers, all of which have been at home. The Sounders lost their 2011 opener to the L.A. Galaxy, beginning an 0-2-2 start to that season. The Sounders did recover eventually and finish the season with the league’s second best record.
“A couple years ago we lost the first game to L.A. and lost the second game to New York, and we still had a really good year,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “So we’re not going to panic, but we do need to look at what went wrong and how we can sort it out.”
The Sounders seemed to be in control for much of the first half, and had several decent scoring chances, particularly for forward Eddie Johnson, but they could not capitalize. Instead, it was Montreal taking advantage of one of its few chances, getting the game’s only goal on an impressive finish by Arnaud in the 35th minute. The goal came on a counter attack, and was set up by a chip over Seattle’s defense from Felipe Martins, which was then followed by Arnaud’s even better chip from the top of the box that beat Gspurning.
“He made a perfect goal,” Gspurning said. “If he touches one-time over my 6-foot-6, that’s brilliant.”
Seattle had some good chances to equalize in the second half, none better than a Johnson shot from point blank range that clanged off the cross bar in the 81st minute. Fifteen minutes before that, Brad Evans hit a low shot from 20 yards out that beat Montreal keeper Troy Perkins, but was kept out by the post. But overall, Seattle’s dominant possession created too few quality chances.
“We know we’ve got to be better,” Schmid said. “Our quality of crossing wasn’t very good today. We hit too many with crosses every time we were looking to cross the ball… Against a team like Montreal that packs it in the middle, you’ve got to get behind them and you’ve got to have quality service in behind their back two, and we didn’t do that often enough.”
Seattle doesn’t have another league game until March 16, but it won’t have to wait long to get back on track thanks it its CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Mexico’s Tigres on Wednesday.
“This team will bounce back,” Schmid said. “There’s enough quality in that locker room, there’s enough pride in that locker room. It’s a difficult opponent, a difficult place to play in Monterrey, but we’re a proud team and there’s a lot of proud guys over there who are disappointed today, and we’ll come back.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.