There’s not very many more dramatic ways to win, or lose, a sporting event than Penalty kicks in soccer.
120 minutes of blood sweat and tears and it essentially comes down to what can be analogous to free throws in basketball.
For Sounders FC, it was all but euphoric as a reeling team in desperate need of something positive kicked off their US Open cup title defense with a dramatic road victory over rival Portland Timbers in PGE Park in Portland.
There’s already been a little bit of mixed emotions from Sounders faithful.
The negative being, why should it take penalty kicks to beat what essentially amounts to a semi pro club? Even the Sounders’ back ups should be able to handle this?
Valid points, made even more concerning by the fact that mainstays on the pitch such as Keller, James Riley and Sanna Nyassi ate up a majority of the minutes, while Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani made appearances off the bench late in the second half to try and keep it from going to penalties in the first place. This was also the first time Jacqua, the team’s second leading scorer last year, was able to start for the club in 2010 after coming back from injuries.
It looked early on as if Seattle was going to take control as Sanna Nyassi took a Montano cross that went a little wide back to the middle of the field for Jacqua to bury in the back of the net. From there on out however, it was all Portland, who had the advantage in the stat sheet at the end of 90 in shots, shots on goal and corners.
Despite, Seattle held on defensively, something they’ve had incredible amounts of trouble this season, and even down a man for the last 20 minutes of the extra periods after Taylor Graham was sent off with two yellows, they staved off Portland to force penalties.
For the team to actually win a game with adversity in their face is an encouraging sign for any team battling potential identity issues, or even confidence issues. Because, let’s face it. Last year not only set the bar fanbase wise, but success wise. Expectations were every bit as big for 2010. Now, as we sit near the halfway mark of the season, Seattle is below their points pace of last season, and if the playoffs were to begin today there would be no matches at Qwest Field.
Thus, is the beauty of soccer. Unlike most other sports where if you’re reeling you only have one stage to sort it out, the Sounders have a cup in which they can experiment, relax, and generally have a medium in which they can figure things out and try to implant success from one stage to the next. And, surely, if Seattle were to win their next three US Open cup matches and bring home the trophy from this competition for a second year straight that would be considered a major success. While, it would be impossible to not bring some of the mojo of open cup victories into vital MLS league matches.
And it all started in Portland. Semi-pro opponents or not, Portland played with a lot of heart, and wanted to win that game pretty badly. It took a lot of heart on Seattle’s part to fend them back and walk out of there victorious.
Of course, Sunday it doesn’t get any easier. Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle come back war tested and hot from South Africa ready to put the Galaxy back where they were before the World Cup break. Donovan will have a little more to prove as well, probably auditioning for European sides. (Manchester city????).
We’ll be able to see if they’ve transferred some of that heart we saw in Portland into the pitch at the Home Depot center.