They’re like something from outer space. Or at least the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.
Seattle’s newly unveiled third kit is dominated by a color the club calls “electricity”—kind of a painfully bright, dizziness-inducing day-glo yellow.
I think I love it. It reminds me a little bit of the University of Oregon’s constant attempts to make their football uniforms more and more garish (thanks, of course, to heavy sponsorship dollars from nearby Nike).
And that suits the Sounders FC organization—much like UO, it’s always done things a bit differently. Majority-owned by a Hollywood producer. Backed by the deep pockets of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and the Seattle Seahawks. A touch of goofy with Drew Carey and his insistence of a marching band and supporter-based management.
So if anyone in MLS was going to make us go blind, it was going to be the Sounders. But there’s one thing those “electricity” kits aren’t going to solve immediately: helping Seattle live up to preseason expectations.
Many in the media and blogosphere backed the second-year franchise to emerge as MLS Cup champions come November. And really, it didn’t seem all that far-fetched. They were an exciting team last season, one that moved the ball, played defense and dazzled with a mixture of individual talent and tactical discipline that belied their newbie status. And that fan support -- well, do we need to keep harping on that?
Here’s the problem: It’s just four games into the season, but Seattle doesn’t look like a contender quite yet. In fact, they look pretty similar to the unit of last season. For all their exploits in possession, they just can’t put the ball in the net. The Sounders’ 38 total goals ranked them eighth in the league last season; only two of last year’s playoff squads entered the postseason with fewer goals scored.
So far this season, that hasn’t improved. Heading into Thursday night’s game at FC Dallas, Seattle has four goals through five games. That doesn’t seem right for a team that boasts Brad Evans doing a little of everything, Steve Zakuani bombing down the left wing, Freddie Ljungberg cunningly operating outside the box and Fredy Montero, arguably the most electric (!) young player in the league, up top.
Finding ways to finish was tantamount to Sigi Schmid’s preseason preparations. In particular, as he told MLSsoccer.com just before First Kick, was “finding better ways to break defenses down, when to draw defenders out and when to be more aggressive in the box.”
Part of the solution was to push Montero further toward goal and let a support striker do the dirty work. And so far, due to injuries and available personnel, that support guy has been Ljungberg.
That’s all fine and good. The way the Swede has redefined himself in his American adventure has been impressive. True, he turned 33 last week (happy belated, Freddie!) and he may no longer have the speed he used to back in his Arsenal days when he routinely terrorized fullbacks.
But with Seattle, as a sort of free-roaming deep striker/pushed-forward central mid, he can use his bag of tricks to move the ball around, draw defenders, deliver some pretty passes and, in general, just be a pain in the rear for the opposition. And the way he has bulked up to handle MLS defenders is remarkable, too. Either that or he’s been enjoying Seattle’s sushi joints as much as I do.
Still, Ljungberg can’t ease the pressure on Montero the way Schmid would like to. And with Nate Jaqua injured, that deprives Seattle of its big-bodied target man. That’s why the club is so excited about its incoming second designated player, Swiss striker Blaise Nkufo. The guy is big (6-foot-2, 180 pounds), pedigreed (a Bundesliga and Eredivisie veteran) and proven (more than 200 goals combined at club and international level over a 17-year career).
“He’s got a lot of experience and savvy,” Schmid said of Nkufo. “He’s the kind of guy who I think will make us a better team because he knows how to position himself and score goals. He’ll make Fredy more dangerous, and free up Ljungberg.”
Assuming he’ll come in and adjust quickly to MLS play after the World Cup, Seattle will finally have its perfect complement to the explosive Montero. A thunder-and-lightning approach, if you will. Ljungberg can move back a bit to give them space, Zakuani can keep providing the wild card from the wing and, hopefully, the Sounders can kick it into gear.
But that’s a lot of ifs. Nkufo isn’t arriving for another three months, Jaqua’s not coming back soon and, in the meantime, Seattle is relying on last-second set-pieces and goals from rookies off the bench to secure points.
It’s still early and there’s plenty of time for Schmid to get his men to where he wants them to be. But every game that goes by where the Sounders struggle to score, the pining for Nkufo grows -- as does the pressure on his arrival.
A blinding, electric yellow isn’t going to mask that.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. His “Throw-Ins” column appears every Thursday.