TORONTO - Saturday was supposed to be the first real test for the Sounders FC. After shutting down the New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake in games at Seattle’s Qwest Field, the expansion MLS club took to the road for the first time to face one of the more fervent fan-bases and fast-rising Toronto FC.
After they walked out with a 2-0 victory, improving to 3-0-0 on the season, all of the critics, along with that ballyhooed Toronto crowd, were silenced.
Freddie Ljungberg and Steve Zakuani braved the 30 mile-per-hour winds at BMO Field and each scored their first MLS goals in the first half and Kasey Keller extended his shutout streak to 270 scoreless minutes.
“Well, we’re obviously pleased. It’s our first road win in the club’s history and we’re proud that we got another shutout,” Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid said. “I can’t say enough about our defensive effort, our willingness to throw bodies in front of shots and do whatever it takes to stop people from scoring. This is a tough place to play, with windy conditions today – you know we got a couple of timely goals and everything went our way.”
For as impressive as Keller has been in his first three career MLS games after a storied European career – and he was named MLS Player of the Week for his shutout of Real Salt Lake last week – the 39-year-old Olympia native credits his defense for keeping things simple for him.
“We’ve got guys that are willing to work extremely hard, to put their body on the line and do what needs to be done to keep the other team off the board and I think if we continue with that mentality all year we’ve got a very good shot at having a very good season,” said Keller, who finished with three saves. “We know we’re going to concede a goal and we’re going to lose some games…but while we have guys fighting to stop teams from scoring for 90 minutes then we’re going to have a good chance of doing that quite often.”
The highlight of the evening for Keller came in the 78th minute when Toronto forward Pablo Vitti got off a strike that Keller dove to make the save and preserve the lead. Along with the stingy Sounders defenders, Toronto had to cope with the wind, which was blowing in their faces during the second half, thwarting any aerial attack they may have tried.
Seattle, meanwhile, went to the ground for their offense in the first half. Ljungberg opened the scoring in the 15th minute. He took a pass from in open space at midfield, raced up the middle and worked a quick give-and-go with Nate Jaqua. He took a one-touch pass between two Toronto defenders back to Ljungberg, who hammered a shot from 15-yards out on the run to give the Sounders FC a 1-0 lead.
It was his first goal in the MLS after scoring 48 goals in 11 seasons in the English Premier League with Arsenal and West Ham United.
“It wasn’t the nicest but, you know it was cold and windy. We tried to keep the ball on the floor when we were attacking and we got some goals, of course when the ball goes up in the air it’s very hard to control, so the conditions were not the best,” Ljungberg said.
Zakuani’s goal involved much less flash. Ljungberg carried the ball into the right corner and drew two TFC defenders before turning the ball back to Sebastien Le Toux just inside the penalty area. Le Toux wound a cross to Nate Jaqua straightaway. His shot was blocked by Rohan Ricketts, but the rebound fell right to Zakuani who charged in on Toronto goalkeeper Greg Sutton and slipped a shot past him for his first goal in the 45th minute to put Seattle up 2-0.
Zakuani was the first overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft after a successful collegiate career at University of Akron.
Ljungberg’s goal marked the third straight game Seattle scored in the first 20 minutes of the game.
“It was a nice start definitely and one of the things I told Freddie before the game look…don’t forget one of our best qualities always has been getting behind defensives and obviously he got behind them for that first goal,” Schmid said. “Zakuani was ‘Johnny on the spot’ when the shot got blocked and he didn’t hesitate to put it away quickly and that was great.”
Now an unbeaten 3-0-0, the Sounders FC will face the Kansas City Wizards next Saturday at 7:30 at Qwest Field. The game is sold out, but can be seen on KONG in Seattle.