SEATTLE – Losses don’t come much more painful than allowing the decisive goal on the game’s final play – at home, no less – the way the Seattle Sounders did on Saturday against Columbus.
What made the loss so gut-wrenching, though, was how well the Sounders had played for much of it.
Despite being without the services of their two likely World Cup participants Clint Dempsey (suspension) and Brad Evans (calf injury), the Sounders looked as good as they have all year during the match’s first 57 minutes. Up until then, the Sounders were leading 1-0 and could have been leading by much more if not for the heroics of Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark, who had made already five saves at that point.
“We did what we thought we’d be able to do,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said about the match before the penalty, and resulting red card to Djimi Traore, dramatically changed its trajectory. “We knew that they like to spread the field and they spread their players on the field, and that when you can intercept passes you can get at them pretty quickly and the flank areas are open because their outside backs are up so high.”
Although the Crew held the possession advantage throughout, the Sounders were repeatedly able to get chances in transition. The midfield trio of Gonzalo Pineda, Michael Azira and Osvaldo Alonso were able to clog the passing lanes and quickly push it ahead to the three forwards, who had no fewer than six solid opportunities.
The Sounders’ lone goal came on one such counterattack.
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Lamar Neagle stepped in front of a loose pass in the Sounders’ defensive end and pushed it ahead to Obafemi Martins. The Nigerian international made a nifty jumping flick that sent Kenny Cooper racing toward the Crew goal. With Neagle following, Cooper chose to take it himself and blasted his shot past Clark.
“It’s one of the best feelings in the game,” Cooper said about his first Sounders goal. “In front of these fans, obviously, it’s that much more special. It was a great team build-up. Oba put me in so well and I’m just glad it ended up in the back of the net.”
Even after going down a man and surrendering the lead, the Sounders continued to press for the winner and got a few good looks on counters and set pieces.
But in the immediate aftermath, all of that rung a bit hollow.
“It's very frustrating, especially after the first that we had,” Neagle said. “I feel like it was one of the better halves that we have put together as a team. I definitely had a couple of chances that if I bury, then it's a different story.
“I'd rather win ugly than look good and end up losing at the end.”