Early-season soccer is almost always ugly, so it shouldn't be a surprise that most of Seattle's 1-0 win over Sporting KC on Saturday afternoon was. .. let's be nice and call it "choppy." (Note: This wasn't because of the replacement ref, who was very good.)
It takes time to work out certain rotations defensively, and even longer to work it out in attack. There were a ton of missed runs and missed passes in this one, which is to be expected.
And then it was Chad Barrett time.
Here are three things we learned from the 2014 season's first game (only 322 to go!):
1. Starting position is key for Ozzy Alonso
He covers so much ground, but even the Honey Badger's not going to outrun the ball. That was the case in the first half, when Sporting KC constantly pulled him up the field then found Graham Zusi in the pocket of space behind him.
Kyle Martino did a good job of pointing it out during the broadcast, and Sigi Schmid did an even better job of adjusting at halftime. Alonso was off his tether for the first 45, but the most important player on the field in the second.
It wasn't so much a change in responsibilities for Alonso, who is still Seattle's No. 1 ball-winner – and my bet to lead the league in recoveries per 90 yet again. It was was where those responsibilities were applied. He sat deeper in the second half, especially once Clint Dempsey came on, and in so doing pushed Sporting wider to the flanks. He also won more balls with Sporting pushed forward, which gave Seattle almost constant avenues for the counter.
This has to be encouraging for Sounders fans, who've been critical of their team's ability to change shape and tactics on the fly. They did it to the tune of three points on Matchday 1.
2. Sporting still need to find a go-to goalscorer
Dom Dwyer was everywhere, and there's plenty of reason for SKC fans to hope that he starts bringing at least 50 percent of his USL PRO prowess to MLS.
But he left points on the line in this one, and Seattle punished the champs. No miss was more glaring than the 93rd-minute open header – Dwyer did well to get a step on a sleeping Dempsey – that he somehow skimmed wide.
3. The danger of defensive subs
The best way to defend is to possess the ball. Even on turf, even in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time.
That's why I hated the Ike Opara for Benny Feilhaber sub that Peter Vermes made late. Seattle wasn't generating enough in the attacking third to warrant a third central defender, someone who can clean up inside the 18. That's where Opara is at his best.
- OPTA Stats: Sounders win the possession battle
Feilhaber, meanwhile, was at his best – and probably the best field player – on both sides of the ball in the midfield. He generated a number of the game's best chances, and did very, very strong work tracking back to blunt Seattle in transition. He single-handedly ran down a counter in about the 78th minute that was a prototype of the one that lost the game for KC.
It's also worth noting that it was his starting position that so flummoxed Alonso in the first half. They were much more even in the second, but battling Alonso to a second-half draw in central midfield should have been enough for Sporting to get at least a point.
Lesson learned, perhaps, for the visitors.