2007 Sep 29

USL First Division Championship Match:
Seattle Sounders 4 - 0 Atlanta Silverbacks
Starfire Sports Complex, Tukwila, WA

Seattle: Chris Eylander; Danny Jackson, Taylor Graham, Zach Scott, Kevin Sakuda; Kenji Treschuk, Leighton O'Brien (Greg Howes 18'), Josh Gardner (Noah Merl 75'), Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar; Roger Levesque, Sebastien Le Toux (Craig Tomlinson 88'). Substitutes not used: Ben Dragavon, Jake Besagno, Gabe Sturm, Andre Schmid.

Atlanta: Ryan McIntosh; Matt Bobo, Martyn Lancaster (Tweety Walters 89'), Omar Jarun, David Hayes; Macoumba Kandji, Scott Buete, Luis Liendo (Angel Rivillo 66'), Rodrigo Ríos (Anthony Wolfe 77'); Warren Ukah (Dan Antoniuk 63'), Machel Millwood. Substitutes not used: Felipe Quintero, Alvin Hudson, Kevin Barrow.

45' SEA: Howes (Alcaraz-Cuellar)
61' SEA: Alcaraz-Cuellar (Graham)
82' SEA: Howes
90' SEA: Tomlinson

Additional match reports: Seattle Times, Silverbacks, USL, GOALSeattle.com, Seattle P-I, Soccer America, Prost Amerika (German), Prost Amerika (English).
Photos: GOALSeattle match photos, Digital Diva, GOALSeattle.com postmatch celebration, GOALSeattle before and after.

Match report from the Sounders:

There's another title in the house for the Seattle Sounders. Or, perhaps more accurately, another title in the Howes.

Greg Howes, who wasn't even supposed to be in the game as early as he was, started the scoring, then later added an insurance goal as the Sounders won the USL First Division Championship on Saturday night at Starfire Sports Complex with a 4-0 rout of the Atlanta Silverbacks.

That made it two titles in the past three seasons for the Sounders, and was the fourth in franchise history.

Subbing into the contest in the 18th minute when starting midfielder Leighton O'Brien had to leave with a pulled groin, Howes put Seattle on the board just before halftime, then sealed the deal with another goal just near the end of the 82nd minute in a game that was played in a constant drizzle.

It was an unexpected ending to what became a sweet homecoming year for Howes, who was the league Rookie of the Year in 2000 when he was with the Sounders before moving on to other teams, and eventually, a solid indoor career.

"The 18th minute, I was just getting a feel for the game, knowing I was probably going to go in during the second half," said, Howes, who was named the title-game Most Valuable Player. "I didn't get much of a warm-up, but I was able to get a feel for it and get a second wind. That (goal) was a huge momentum boost for us."

Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar, who joined Seattle this year after several seasons with arch-rival Portland, set up Howes' first goal, then scored the second one himself on a howitzer of a shot from about 30 yards away that left the Silverbacks visibly deflated -- even though they still had 30 minutes to do something about it.

Craig Tomlinson, a long-time fixture on the Sounders roster and a fan favorite for his flair and personality, capped the scoring with a point-blank shot during second-half stoppage time.

And Chris Eylander, the second-year goalkeeper who led the league in wins and saves and had the second-most shutouts, logged another clean sheet. That gave him 16 for the year -- 13 in the regular season, and three more in the playoffs.

"I can't even put it into words. I've never been in a championship like this ever," Eylander said. "Coming in last year, I was just hoping to get a chance to play. This year, I just wanted to build on that. And when things started to click, I knew we had something special."

Seattle, which, at 16-6-6 had the best regular-season record, became just the third Commissioner's Cup winner (emblematic of regular-season supremacy) to capture the championship in the past 17 years. In 2005, when they beat Richmond in penalty kicks for the title, the Sounders were just the fourth-seeded team in the playoffs.

And it all came after a 1-4-3 start to the season, which eventually became a distant memory, thanks in part to a 14-game unbeaten streak that spanned from late June to late August.

"I forgot that. Do you remember that? I don't," a smiling head coach Brian Schmetzer said of Seattle's slow start way back in April and May.

What Schmetzer didn't forget was that the 2005 title was a lot more nerve-wracking with its penalty-kick finish than this one was.

"The result was a bit nicer and kinder to me," Schmetzer said in savoring his second crown. "I didn't have to sweat it as long.

"But every championship you win is a great one."

Alcaraz-Cuellar started the play that led to Howes' first goal with a target ball into traffic in the penalty area. Howes took it on the half-volley, and, with Silverbacks goalkeeper Ryan McIntosh playing just a couple of yards away, ripped a shot that went past McIntosh and flew into the back left corner midway up the net at 44:27. It was the culmination of a first half dominated by the Sounders with a 9-3 shot advantage.

Then, midway through the 61st minute, Taylor Graham had control of the ball to the left side of the box. He crossed it out just beyond the restraining arc where Alcaraz-Cuellar ran onto it and hammered it into the back left corner.

"That second goal killed them, not just because it was 2-0, but … it was such a great goal," Schmetzer said.

Atlanta upped the pressure thereafter, finally bringing in league-leading point scorer and MVP runner-up Daniel Antoniuk off the bench. Eylander punched away two shots in the span of half a minute to preserve the lead and ultimately finished with seven saves on 15 Silverbacks shots.

But Howes erased all doubt at 81:55 when he picked up a loose ball at the top of the box, struck it with the inside of his right foot and watched it curl away from McIntosh and into the back left corner for a 3-0 margin.

"To come back home and share this with family and friends, it couldn't have been any better," Howes said. "This is where my roots are and where I grew up and played soccer, and I'm going to be here in the community for many years."

           Seattle   Atlanta
Shots:       16        15
Saves:        7         8
Corners:      5         8
Fouls:        9        12
Offsides:     2         0

63' ATL: Liendo cautioned
69' SEA: Alcaraz-Cuellar cautioned for delay on a free kick
87' SEA: Le Toux cautioned
90' SEA: Tomlinson cautioned

Referees: Mike Geiger; Mike Rottersman, Will Niccolls; Scott Lawrence

Attendance: 4,893