2009 Oct 29

League's top two defenses open playoffs with a scoreless draw

Playoffs, Round 1, Leg 1:
Seattle Sounders FC  0 - 0  Houston Dynamo

Qwest Field, Seattle, WA


Seattle: Kasey Keller; Leo Gonzalez, Patrick Ianni, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, James Riley; Steve Zakuani (Sebastien Le Toux 82'), Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Nate Jaqua; Freddie Ljungberg, Fredy Montero (Roger Levesque 63'). Substitutes not used: Terry Boss, Zach Scott, Tyson Wahl, Peter Vagenas, Stephen King.

Houston: Pat Onstad; Mike Chabala, Geoff Cameron, Bobby Boswell, Andrew Hainault; Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden, Brian Mullan; Dominic Oduro (Luis Angel Landin 79'), Brian Ching (Cam Weaver 89'). Substitutes not used: Tally Hall, Ryan Cochrane, Eddie Robinson, Craig Waibel, Wade Barrett.

Match report from Ron Stickney:

Well, we might have predicted a scoreless draw with the league's top two defenses on the pitch to open the 2009 MLS playoffs. Neither side conceded much in the way of goal scoring chances. Yet, it was an entertaining match to watch. Credit shutouts to the two oldest players in the league, goalkeepers Pat Onstad for Houston and Kasey Keller for Seattle.

Seattle center back Tyrone Marshall was initially on the match day roster as a starter, but he was a late scratch due reportedly to a knee ligament strain. Patrick Ianni started in Marshall's place and, in our opinion, was man of the match, defending strongly and coming closest to scoring twice.

It might have been a Thursday match with only a few days to sell tickets, but the Sounders opened up the ring of loge seats in the upper deck and set a new Sounders MLS attendance record at 35,807, another sellout. Most MLS teams see a drop in attendance in the playoffs due to the short selling period. Sounders top owner Joe Roth predicted that if the Sounders manage to advance to the championship match they would sell out the entire Qwest Field stadium at 67 kilobutts.

The Sounders finished the regular season with an average home attendance of 30,897 per match, breaking the Los Angeles Galaxy's previous record by more than 10%.

First Half

The first chances each way came close. First was for Houston in the 3rd minute, when Andrew Hainault headed the match's first corner kick, taken by Stuart Holden, down nicely and barely missed the lower far corner. A minute later Seattle rookie Steve Zakuani was sprung on the left and got into the penalty area for a shot that Onstad blocked wide for a corner. The corner kick gave Ianni his first of several headers and this one went over the bar as he was well pressured on the shot.

Houston threatened on a free kick after the first foul of the match at 6', and it took all of Keller's effort to manage a one-handed punch out of immediate danger. The ball was looped right back in, but Keller retreated in time to claim it above an attacker at the post. Houston missed another chance at 9' as Holden's cross was headed well wide by Brad Davis.

At 11' it was Seattle's turn to head one wide, Nate Jaqua with the shot from a Freddie Ljungberg corner kick. Then Brad Evans soon found Zakuani open on the left to earn a corner. Ljungberg again took it, and Ianni came close with a header from the far side back to the opposite post, where Brian Mullan on the post did well to head it clear.

A minute later another Seattle corner kick from Ljungberg was headed down by Jaqua and just missed the near post. In the process, Fredy Montero did something to draw the ire of goalkeeper Onstad, who knocked Montero down. The teams immediately formed a scrum, but there was no escalation and after the crowd was dispersed referee Ricardo Salazar showed the yellow card to both Montero and Onstad. After that, every time Onstad touched the ball the boo birds came out in force.

Strangely, a full ten minutes went by after the altercation with no chances either way. Then Houston took their best shot of the evening when Dominic Oduro crossed from the left corner to an open Brian Ching 10 yards from goal, and he headed nicely towards the far post. But Keller dove left to make his first save a candidate for save of the week.

At 28' Jaqua went off with an injury after being kicked in the head by Ricardo Clark. Jaqua came back later with a big bandage on his forehead that must have been made by the Kotex company. It was reminiscent of the US Open Cup qualifier between the same two sides, when Jaqua also had a bandaged head for the latter part of the match.

Seattle's Montero had a chance from a steep angle at 32', but Onstad had it covered at the near post.

The last few minutes saw Houston try a long shot that was an easy save for Keller. Then a long Seattle free kick by Ljungberg was headed off the bar by Ianni and the rebound was cleared by a defender under pressure. Zakuani closed the half with a 20-yard shot that missed the near post by two yards.

It was an even first half, with both sides coming very close a few times.

Second Half

The teams got right back to attacking to open the second half. For Seattle, Montero fought to earn a cross, and under pressure Evans headed it wide. For Houston, a dangerous cross by Oduro was nicely sent over the bar by Ianni under strong pressure from the Chinger. Then on the corner kick Ianni again did well to head it clear under more pressure from the Chinger. Ianni was holding his head to settle the spinning stars as he ran upfield.

Seattle came inches close at 52' when Ljungberg's corner kick was headed down by Jaqua and the shot just missed the lower far corner.

Keller was called into action the rest of the first hour, first taking a dangerous cross from the left corner by Chabala, then diving to the far post to push Davis' well taken shot wide. On the hour chime Keller dove forward to take another nice shot, this one sent up the middle after a nice build-up.

Seattle came inches close again at 61' when Montero on the front line took a pass from Jaqua and turned on the ball, holding off his marker, and just missed the lower far corner from the 18-yard line. That was his last chance, as Roger Levesque replaced Montero at 63'. Montero had missed a practice earlier in the week with a mild fever, so he may not have been operating at 100% strength.

Both sides spent the next ten minutes trying to regain their form as fatigue was starting to set in. Then Seattle emerged from the doldrums when Jaqua headed a Ljungberg corner kick nicely at the top shelf from 10 yards, and Onstad made a nice reaction save overhead to knock it over for another corner that was dealt with.

The fans were unhappy in the 77th minute when Salazar failed to allow advantage after a Houston foul on Ljungberg at the halfway line. Seattle's attack led to an apparent goal by Jaqua, but Onstad had pulled up, recognizing that the play was dead, so the goal might have been stopped if advantage had been allowed. The Seattle attackers never heard the whistle, an indication of how loud the crowd was.

Added time at the end resulted in two chances for Seattle. A free kick was headed at goal by substitute Sebastien Le Toux and deflected wide for a corner. Finally, Levesque powered a header from the spot after a cross and just missed the post.

The series will conclude on Nov 8 in Houston, where the teams drew 1-1 in the regular season.

          SEA  HOU
Shots:     15    9
Saves:      4    3
Corners:    9    7
Fouls:      6   17
Offsides:   1    2

15' SEA and HOU: Montero and Onstad cautioned for an altercation on a corner kick play -- not sure what Montero did, but Onstad knocked him down in retaliation
64' SEA: Alonso cautioned for taking Oduro down in the circle
68' SEA: Evans cautioned for a tactical foul
71' HOU: Mullan cautioned for a tactical foul on Zakuani
75' HOU: Chabala cautioned for pulling down Ljungberg as he went past down the touch line

Referees: Ricardo Salazar; Steven Taylor, Hector Vergara; Edvin Jurisevic

Attendance: 35,807 (Seattle record for an MLS match)

Postmatch Quotes

Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid

On Pat Onstad yellow card: "I haven't seen the replay. You'd have to ask Salazar. I'm confused. A lot of calls I was confused about. In on a breakaway, calls a foul, and calls the ball back and doesn't card the guy. It's confusing."

On scoring opportunities: "We hit the crossbar on the header. We had lots of balls that were close. Home or away, we're going to the get same opportunities. They're a good team. They're going to battle and fight. I feel confident we can do the job in Houston as well."

On Nate Jaqua: "Nate seems to get wrapped up every time we play them. As I said, it's part of it. I asked the referee if this is how the playoff games will be done. He had no answer."

On preference in other semifinal series winner: "They'll battle each other. Only advantage for us is if Chivas wins and we beat Houston, we get them at home. Other than that, there's no difference. But before that we need to take care of business in Houston."

On Fredy Montero: "Fredy was sick on Tuesday. He trained Wednesday, but was still feeling the after effects. I said give me as many minutes as you can. In the second half I could see he was making the effort, but I saw him start to drag, so thought best to get fresh legs in."

On fouls: "We got three yellows, they got three yellows. They committed 18 fouls. We committed six. They're a strong team and they're a team that has been in a lot of battles. For sure when you go to Central America and play CONFACAF games they get chippy, so they're used to that and some of our guys aren't aware of it. I don't want to make that the theme. We had some good changes. Needed to play the ball quicker and see it sooner. We had some opportunities. As long as we get some of those opportunities there, it doesn't matter if the game's physical, we'll be ok."

On set plays: "Set plays are always important, especially as teams are more equal. They're a good set team because they have good height and they get good service. I thought we were dangerous in our set pieces today as well. I would like to see the game flow a little more if we can."

On breaking Houston defense: "They were tight and pressured us. Maybe we need to get into the spaces behind. Roger got in behind them three or four times and that's where the space is. If we can put the ball behind them, it creates problems."

On rivalry: "It's a good competition, a good rivalry. They've been a dominant team in the past three or four years, longer if you think of San Jose. We're the new kids and are trying to have people take notice of us. They don't want to give away any of their prestige and we're trying to take some of it."

On looking forward: "You always want to win at home. Don't look at it as a missed opportunity. We played the first half of this series and didn't get a goal. We have to get a goal in the second half of the series now."

Freddie Ljungberg - Midfielder

On corner kicks: "It would have been nice if we scored on some of them. I think today we had two that hit the bar or something and the goalie saved a couple. But of course it would have been nice if they would have gone in. At the same time we are hitting the right areas of the corners and hopefully we will get a break and score three or something in the same game."

On referee: "Someone asked me before if I think it should be this rough in a playoff game. I think it's still soccer. At the same time, I can't say too much because I need to play the last couple of games. I don't want to get suspended for saying anything but they didn't use the whistle all that much all the game. And then on the one against Nate all of sudden they blow the whistle. We just play to get on with it. But at the same time, even in the playoffs, there needs to be a level of when you are going to blow the whistle so that it can be entertaining for the fans."

Nate Jaqua - Forward

On physicality of match: "It was a real physical game. It was a battle back and forth. Both teams were trying not to give up anything, kind of feeling each other out a little bit. We had a few chances that we could've put away. But we have been good on the road. We are confident going down to Houston and getting a win down there."

On head injury: "A ball got up in the air and he [Ricardo Clark] went with his foot and I went with my head and just got there a second beforehand. I think he [Clark] got up kind of early and didn't see me coming so I don't think it was malicious on his part by any means, just got me a little bit. [...] It just kept bleeding. They put a little band aid on it but I had a header and knocked it off, started pouring blood again. So [the bandage] is kind of better because it kept the swelling out and pulled it back so that I could see."

On match: "It's what I expect especially against a team like Houston. They have been good in the playoffs for the past few years because of the fact they're physical. Everyone fights and everyone battles. I think we did that as well today. It's something we are going to have to do when we go down there, fight for every inch, fight for every ball, fight for all of the second balls and that's what the playoffs is about."

On rivalry with Houston: "I think it's a great rivalry. We have had some good games with them. I enjoy that type of physicality and the battling back and forth and fighting for every ball. I think that's fun. I think we had some good moments too. I thought we could've been a little better with the ball in the first half. But we are confident. I thought we played well when we were in Houston last time. It was a 1-1 tie but we had some good chances and we moved the ball well. We are not scared to go in there and play."

Dynamo Head Coach Dominic Kinnear

On being happy with the results: "We knew it was going to be hard and tough between these two teams. We have to go home and win a game, they have to go on the road and get a win. These are two good teams with not a lot of differences between them."

On having an advantage playing the next game at home: "We did the same thing last year and we didn't win. If you depend on playing and winning at home then you're looking at something that might not happen. It all depends, the fans don't play, the players play."

On how his teamed played in the second-half: "They had their chances and we started fouling a little too much. We really didn't get forward and punch the ball into their box. We defended well and Pat [Onstad] made some really good saves. All in all to get a shut-out here is not such a terrible thing."

On the altercation between Fredy Montero and Pat Onstad: "You know I didn't see it. The play right before I thought was going to be a foul called and I went to plead my case to the fourth official and did not see the altercation. I asked and someone said he just bumped him. I think for a guy to fall down so easily from a chest bump is looking to get him thrown out. It is important to maintain our composure in all areas. I think Pat was upset that they didn't call a foul, we have to keep our head."

On making any changes for the next game: "It would be nice to change the score. We will see. I thought we did some good things tonight, such as stretching the field. It would be nice to have a little more possession of the ball. I think we were a little bit rushed tonight in the final third of the field. You go on the road in these situations and a tie on the road is that. I told the guys in here, we did something very hard, and it will probably be harder next time. We have to get ready for it."

On getting practices at home than on the road: "More preparation can help and now we can get some rest. I think that was our fourth game in twelve days, going back to the L.A. game on Sunday. I do go back to the Chivas game which gave these guys a lift and some confidence. Being at home is always more comfortable, doesn't mean you get what you want, you have to go out and work hard for it."

On this game coming down to the defense: "I wouldn't say it came down to our offense. Defensively we were good, sometimes it comes down to luck. We had our chances to score a goal, Pat made some nice saves. Their goalkeeper made some nice saves, defense ruled the game today."

Pat Onstad- Goalkeeper

On getting the shutout tonight: "It was nice to get a clean sheet, but sometimes tonight we defended with our lives. They had some close opportunities; we knew coming into the game it was going to be difficult. Freddie had some nice passes and crosses and they had some big bodies, I thought our guys defended it well tonight."

On coming up with the save on Nate Jaqua header: "You could tell it was a good ball, if he gets enough space you know he is getting a head on it. I thought he was going either to my left or right. I made myself big and fortunately he hit it right over my head and I was able to get a hand on it. Nine times out of ten Nate puts that ball where I can't get to it."

On coming up with a tie with as much pressure as there was in the second half: "It was nice; the guys in this locker room have played a lot. This is our fourth game in twelve days, the guys didn't look weary at all at the end of the game. We matched their intensity and carried it right through the full 90 minutes."

On the incident with Fredy Montero: "To be honest I just gave him a super light bump and he went down like he normally does. He rolled around a few times. If it would have been Nate Jaqua, he would have brushed his shoulder like a fly was buzzing him. That is Fredy, and as soon as I bumped him I told myself that was the wrong guy to bump. I got what I deserved and the referee thought he embellished it a little bit."

Other match reports: