BY Art Thiel 03:00PM 10/31/2010

Sounders’ playoff loss adds to woe

Star-studded Galaxy’s win at Qwest puts Sounders in a hole

Spell it football or futbol. The local pronunciation is futility.

The ghastly weekend came to an end on the ghostly night, the Sounders shut out in the first of a pair of Major League Soccer playoff matches to complete what was likely the worst two days of outcomes in local major sports history.

After the Huskies, Cougars and Seahawks footballers lost by a combined 116-3, the Sounders played well and lost respectably, 1-0, to the best team in the sport.

Still . . . 117-3.

Welcome to Feeb-town, USA.

The only redemptive aspect of the utter pathos oozing from the weekend was that the Sounders are merely at halftime of their Western Conference semifinal series with the Los Angeles Galaxy, because this odd little two-game, aggregate-goal series finishes next Sunday in Southern California.

By then, however, the local sports landscape may have regressed to the point where televised poker will hold the masses in thrall.

The Sounders, of course, had nothing to do with the haplessness of their American football brethren. They merely were buried alive in the same avalanche of zeroes.

“I thought we created chances,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. “We just squandered some opportunities.”

In fact, they were beaten only by a freakish, brilliant goal from 30 yards by the Galaxy’s leading scorer, Edson Buddle. His right-footed rocket in the 38th minute described a tight arc that rose over and dropped behind Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller, whose astonishment was shared by the 35,521 at Qwest Field.

“Guys might try that shot a hundred times in their careers and never make it happen,” said Keller. “But great plays change games.”

Teammate Blaise Nkufo was a little less generous.

“They came in defending and got a lucky goal,” he said. “It was the only thing they did.”

Then again, against a team from our wet part of the forest, all an opponent needs is one good thing.

The Sounders outshot the celebrated Galaxy, featuring stars David Beckham and Landon Donovan, 15-10, and forced keeper Donovan Ricketts into a season-high eight saves. But despite the offensive pressure and an otherwise stout defense, the Sounders now must go on the road and gain a one-goal advantage Sunday to force an overtime.

Right now, a single goal may as well be a hike over the summit of Everest.

It seems a shame for the Sounders, who finished the second half of the regular season as the MLS’s hottest club, going 10-2-3 after unloading designated-player-turned-prima donna Freddie Ljungberg and turning into a team.

It’s not as if the Sounders didn’t put in the work: Besides the standard 30 MLS regular-season matches, they played 12 “extra-season” matches — three friendlies, four more in the U.S. Open tourney and five in the CONCACAF tourney. Only one other MLS team, Columbus, had as much extra labor.

But the reward for moving into the No. 6 seed in the eight-team playoff field was playing the No. 1-seeded Galaxy, which beat the Sounders 4-0 and 3-1 earlier in the season and led the MLS season from wire-to-wire.

In the standard playoff bracket used by the NBA and NHL, a top seed plays No. 8, two plays seven, etc. But the MLS system is so convoluted that Keller said earlier in the week that he had no idea how it worked. It seems understood by fewer people than the American electoral system.

To top it off, the opening match came on Halloween night, meaning soccer families with trick-or-treat-lusting youngsters had to make a choice. That helped leave hundreds of empty seats, virtually unheard of in the first two years of the Sounders.

The Sounders definitely were short-sheeted, but that didn’t keep Galaxy coach Bruce Arena from playing the victim. Once again, he complained about the conditions on the stadium’s artificial surface.

“I guess they watered it down before the game, so it was slick,” he said. “It’s slick and a little bit hard. It’s a tough field to play on.”

Apparently, life is tough everywhere, even after winning.

Perhaps Arena should hang around Seattle more, where sports lamentations run deep, strong and legitimate.


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