The scoring chances were there in the first leg of the Sounders FC’s Western Conference Semifinal match with the LA Galaxy on Sunday.
However, despite getting eight shots on goal, Seattle wound up with a zero on their side of the scoreboard. And while they are the first team to go scoreless in their first three playoff matches, it is not a concern to the Sounders and head coach Sigi Schmid.
“I’m encouraged that we created chances. If you’re not creating chances, then you really have to worry,” Schmid said. “I thought we created chances. I'm disappointed in our inability to finish. A couple were great saves and you take your hat off to them on those, but there were some that we should have finished.”
While missed scoring chances was a bugaboo for the Sounders in the early parts of the season, it’s not a problem they’ve faced since July, when they started their successful run of games that found them now in the playoffs.
Over the final 15 games of the regular season, Seattle was only shut out twice, both in 0-0 draws with Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake. Although they only scored more than two goals on two separate occasions in that stretch, they still managed to net 23 goals over the second half of the year on their way to a 10-2-3 record.
On the field, nothing has changed in the way Seattle approaches the game.
“I feel the team is still playing the same style. If someone outside feels that the team is playing differently, I don't think that’s the case,” said Fredy Montero. “We are still playing with the same mentality.”
Some have pointed to Montero as the example of Seattle’s perceived scoring struggles. He has not scored since August 28 when he scored a 90th minute goal to push the Sounders past the Chicago Fire 2-1.
His ability to set up teammates and willingness to take a secondary roll at times has also proven to be good for the team. For that reason, Schmid is encouraged that he is still getting great contributions from the team’s all-time leading scorer.
“A lot of times forwards are a bit streaky. I thought he had a couple decent looks. I thought he got in good positions,” Schmid said. “Sometimes I think he's trying a little too hard a little bit and that’s something we'll talk about this week. He is taking an extra touch when needs to give it a go. That’s a case of him wanting to help the team.”
Since Montero’s last goal, Blaise Nkufo came alive, scoring five goals in a three match stretch. Seattle also got big pushes from Steve Zakuani with three goals and two goals from Sanna Nyassi to round out their scoring depth in their attacking group. It has also shown Montero’s ability to set up his teammates and his willingness to take a secondary roll for the good of the team.
For that reason, LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena felt fortunate about his squad’s defensive efforts on Sunday.
“It was good. Their top four guys are good. Nkufo, Montero, Zakuani and Nyassi are dangerous players and you have to be able to concentrate the whole time. They're a handful,” Arena said.
Even with a strong defensive effort - Schmid and Zakuani both pointed out that Landon Donovan and David Beckham played one of their most defensive matches of the year - LA goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts still had a lot of danger in front of him.
“Sometimes I have to work for my paycheck and tonight was a night I had to work for my paycheck,” he said after the match.
Seattle looks to turn the tables on the Galaxy Sunday night at 6 pm at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.