After magical 1st season, Sounders hit bumps

May 25, 2010, 11:29 AM | Updated: Apr 5, 2011, 9:50 am

By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer

In Steve Zakuani’s opinion, the timeline simply flip-
flopped by a year.

The first year of the Seattle Sounders FC went so
perfectly, the club never encountered the bumps most
expansion franchises face. Now in year No. 2, the Sounders
find themselves a few points out of a playoff spot a third
of the way through the season, and with some of those
bumps starting to emerge.

“Last year was almost like a fairytale and this year we’re
dealing with what expansion teams have to deal with,”
Zakuani said. “We’re not doing too bad. We’re still in the
running and we’ll be there.”

Seattle has just one win in more than a month, but the
problems go deeper than its 3-4-3 record and 12 points
after 10 games.

The Sounders can’t score at home, with just two home goals
since a season opening win over expansion Philadelphia.
They’ve let late leads slip away on the road, left with
draws at Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas after allowing
stoppage time goals.

Their star designated player – Freddie Ljungberg – was
called out by coach Sigi Schmid after Saturday’s 1-0 loss
to San Jose for spending too much time bickering with
referees. And now Seattle’s best defensive player, Jhon
Kennedy Hurtado, is likely done for the season with a torn
anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

It’s all added up to an early season run of disappointment
for a squad many expected to be among the class of the
MLS, yet one that now finds itself a whopping 14 points
back of Los Angeles. The Sounders’ performance against Los
Angeles in a 4-0 home loss earlier this month was so
lackluster to management that the team took the
unprecedented step of giving season ticket holders a free
one-game credit on their 2011 season tickets.

“We’ve all heard sophomore slump before, no question. You
come out and everything is fresh and adrenaline and you
just feed off that energy,” Seattle goalkeeper Kasey
Keller said. “I was told a long, long time ago it’s a hell
of a lot harder to stay at the top than get to the top and
I think we’re going through a little bit of that right
now.”

Seattle gets a free opportunity to fix some of its
problems Wednesday night when it hosts Argentina’s Boca
Juniors in an exhibition at Qwest Field before returning
to MLS play on Saturday at Colorado.

Schmid plans to try a handful of combinations in the back
in the attempt to fill Hurtado’s role. The MLS All-Star
from a year ago was Seattle’s best one-on-one defender.

But the exhibition against the former South American power
comes at an awkward and busy time for Seattle. Already
having played 10 league matches – tied for most in MLS –
the exhibition against Boca comes right before a road game
in the thin air of Colorado, and is followed by two more
home matches in five days – June 5 vs. New England and
June 10 against D.C. United – before the World Cup break
arrives.

“I think it’s going to be just what we need,” Keller said
of the exhibition. “To get out there and shake off the
difficulty of the weekend with a game that doesn’t matter.
It’s an opportunity for some guys to show what they’re
made of and I think it’s going to be a very good
distraction.”

For Boca Juniors, the stop in Seattle is the second of
three exhibition matches in the states. Boca lost to the
Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 on Sunday, then travels to Portland
to face the lower division Portland Timbers on Saturday.
Once the top club in Argentina, Boca has fallen, placing
16th in the most recent Argentina Primera Division season.

“We liked the idea of going to a South American country to
bring a team,” Seattle general manager Adrian Hanauer
said. “The two biggest brands in Argentina are Boca
(Juniors) and River Plate. … We think Boca will be an
attractive game for our fans. They play a good style of
football and we’re excited to be able to play against
them.”

© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed.

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