Things picked up around the Sounders Tuesday night at the Clink. Coach Sigi Schmid didn’t feel compelled to use the words “terrible” and “disease” in describing his team’s play. He also didn’t choose to use the word “whoopee.”
“We didn’t play that poorly,” he said. “We played all right.” His shrug was almost seismic.
They lost “only” 1-0 to Santos Laguna, one of Mexico’s powerhouse outfits, three days after losing to one of MLS’s powerhouse outfits, Real Salt Lake. Next they have to play Santos in a week at their home in Torreon, as required by the two-leg format in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament. The Santos field is littered with the bleached bones of MLS teams who have dared to enter.
So Schmid is not exactly in the mood for fiesta.
Bad schedule. Poor start. Several injured. Other than that, where’s the pinata?
If it’s in the back of the net, the Sounders will never hit it.
This is one disorganized outfit. In a clumsy time of the year, when U.S. national team demands, the awkward balance of domestic vs. international play and and a late assembly of the roster has left them adrift.
Schmid is left to sift through modest feats such as effort, in order to find encouragement.
“I thought we worked tonight — we didn’t pick and choose,” he said. “But we’re still looking for the right mix. It sounds like a broken record, but unfortunately, we’re still getting to know each other.”
He definitely had a mix Tuesday — one that drew multiple head shakes. Besides missing goalie Michael Gspurning, suspended a game for yellow-card accumulation, the Sounders couldn’t play forwards Eddie Johnson (sore toe and strained hamstring), David Estrada (eye injury) and newcomer star Obafemi Martins (strained tendon above the knee). And he chose not to start stalwarts Mauro Rosales and Steve Zakuani, who were late-game substitutes.
So with backup Sammy Ochoa the lone striker, midfielder and DP Shalrie Joseph making his first Seattle appearance and 40-year-old Marcus Hahnemann in goal, the Sounders went at it, knowing that, in order to emerge from the semifinal round, they probably needed at least a three-goal advantage at home to have a chance at surviving the predictable blasting awaiting them in Mexico.
Well into the second half, they had a chance, a scoreless tie giving the 21,057 on hand a moment or two to imagine a wild upset. Then came one breakdown in the 54th minute.
A defensive mistake allowed Santos forward Carlos Quintero to boom an unimpeded shot from the top of the area, which Hahnemann, the former Kentridge High and Seattle Pacific star, dove to block. But he couldn’t corral it, ricocheting to the feet of the last guy the Sounders wanted to see with an open look, Herculez Gomez.
The longtime fixture on the U.S. national team, briefly a Sounder 10 years ago who has spent the last four seasons in the Mexican Primera, pounded the ball past a scrambling Hahnemann into the top corner behind the far post. Game over.
And last word.
After Gomez in the first half missed a good opportunity in front of the goal, many among the Emerald City Supporters chanted, “Sounders re-ject! Sounders re-ject!”
Gomez, a native of Oxnard, CA., and son of Mexican-American parents, engaged Seattle fans in the run-up with some smack talk over Twitter, had to laugh.
“I love it, being called Sounders reject,” he said. “Any chance I get to redeem myself . . .”
Gomez spent the summer of 2003 on loan from the Los Angeles Galaxy to USL version of the Sounders, but broke his foot and never returned to Seattle.
“I remember we had 50 days of sunshine in a row,” he said. “It was great.”
He had nice words for those who remain from those days, such as defender Zach Scott and assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, and even said that the Sounders fans post-game were “appreciative” of his work. That was sporting — Gomez scored three of the seven aggregate goals a year ago in the CCL quarterfinal match between the teams that Santos won easily.
Gomez’s success against MLS teams is almost machine-like, as is the efficiency of Santos. The Sounders meanwhile, are stripped screws, sprung springs and square pegs facing round holes.
“So we just now have to go down there (April 9) and play pretty much a perfect game,” Schmid said. “That’s not impossible. It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible.”
Schmid didn’t sound exactly convinced. With a single win in seven games overall this season, and loss No. 8 a near certainty in the next match, it may be early, but Schmid can’t want for April to be over.