Leading up to their match against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, much of the talk surrounding Sounders FC centered on the four attacking players making their first start together as a foursome.
With Alvaro Fernandez and Mauro Rosales on the wings and Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson at the forward spots, the Sounders had an attacking force as good as any in Major League Soccer on paper.
Fernandez had nine goals in 2011, trailing only Montero in that season, while also adding two goals and three assists in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Rosales changed the face of the Sounders when he signed with the team in 2011 and set a club record with 13 assists while adding five goals.
Johnson scored 41 goals in seven MLS seasons from 2001-2007 before heading to Europe.
Montero is Seattle’s all-time leading scorer with 38 goals and has a team-high 28 assists. He’s also scored five goals in the US Open Cup and four goals in the Champions League.
Yet injuries had kept them from starting a game together in 2012 until Saturday.
Which might begin to explain why they struggled through the first 45 minutes against the Whitecaps.
“We knew we were better than we showed in the first half,” Montero said.
At halftime, head coach Sigi Schmid made some key tactical adjustments, inserting Andy Rose into the lineup for Alex Caskey and shifting the lineup to a 4-2-3-1, with Montero dropping back into more of an attacking midfield role and Johnson acting as the lone striker.
Within five minutes of the start of the second half, the difference was crystal clear as the Sounders had opportunities abound and equalized 1-1 on a goal by Eddie Johnson, his third of the season.
Montero would add a 90th minute goal to finish the match in a 2-2 draw, securing a point on the road in the Cascadia derby match while also putting him back on pace to equal his top seasons of 12 goals in 2009 and 2011.
Yet still there is more to be had from that attacking core.
“It’s still a little bit disjointed,” Schmid said. “Mauro isn’t playing his best right now, but I know it will come. For Flaco, this is his first start in a long time, so his rhythm and his timing is going to come as well.”
The foursome has combined for eight goals and seven assists through 11 matches, with Montero the only one of the bunch who has played in each match.
That left opportunities for other players to step in and contribute. David Estrada has four goals filling in at forward and mixed himself into the outside of midfield as well. Caskey has two assists while getting most of his minutes on the wing while Fernandez and Rosales were recovering from injuries.
Said Schmid, “I think we have the ability and there are different people who can come up at different times.”
With the Sounders off to the best start in franchise history at 7-2-2 and leading the league in points per match (2.09), they have adjusted well despite not having their top lineup available for most of the season.
“It’s not coming as fast as we thought it would be. We’ve had some injuries and guys haven’t been able to play on a consistent basis together,” Johnson said. “Whoever Sigi puts on the field, we’ve got each other’s backs 100-percent.”
The Sounders will take on the Columbus Crew on Wednesday in their last match at CenturyLink Field until June 20 when they host Sporting Kansas City.