Sounders 2, Union 0
Give Fredy Montero a stage and the young Colombian usually performs.
But this goal set a new standard for Seattle's striker. And appropriately enough, it came on opening night.
Montero helped set up the first goal of the 2010 Major League Soccer season, then scored on a diving header that'll be tough for anyone to top all season, and the Sounders started year No. 2 with an impressive 2-0 win over the expansion Philadelphia Union on Thursday night.
The 2009 MLS newcomer of the year assisted on Brad Evans' goal just 12 minutes into the new season, then just before halftime redirected Osvaldo Alonso's drive, diving headfirst toward the post to score his first goal of 2010.
``It was one of the toughest goals to score in my entire professional career,'' Montero said through an interpreter. ``The only option I had was to stick the ball into that little small space. It was a fast ball, it bounced right in front of me and luckily it went in.''
Seattle remains one of just two expansion teams to win in its debut, stymieing the Union on a blustery night with waves of rain pelting the more than 36,000 that turned out, many arriving after Washington was knocked out from the NCAA tournament by West Virginia.
The start of the 15th season of the MLS was in doubt until last weekend when the players and owners agreed on a new five-year labor contract. With the labor strife resolved, the Sounders went out and looked like one of the favorites many have predicted.
The Union's debut wasn't helped when defender Toni Stahl was red carded in the 41st minute after receiving a second yellow card, and the Union were forced to play a man down for the final 49 minutes.
But the bigger issue for Philadelphia coach Peter Nowak afterward was what he considered diving by Seattle's Freddie Ljungberg. Nowak spent much of his postgame speaking out against Ljungberg.
``I expect Freddie Ljungberg, who has scored so many goals, played I don't know 80, 100 games with the national team, and won so many trophies, that he's going to be more honest than he is really,'' Nowak said. ``Complaining and whining about every single call and trying to push the referee to give the yellow cards is a little bit ... not up to his standards.''
Seattle's designated players often found himself getting knocked to the ground or jawing with the Union defense. Ljungberg left in the 60th minute still limping after getting sandwiched during one challenge in the first half. He regularly had verbal confrontations with a number of Union players and referee Ricardo Salazar.
Nowak didn't consider Ljungberg's actions professional.
``This is the men's world, this is how the men play. ... even with (Ljungberg), if he would do this back in England with Arsenal ... I'm sure 98 percent of the crowd would be booing him,'' Nowak said. ``He's a better player than this.''
Seattle never gave the Union a chance at confidence, jumping out early and controlling play.
Holding just outside the penalty box in the 12th minute, Montero left a perfectly judged pass to an overlapping Zakuani near the end line. Zakuani left-footed a low pass back to the middle, onto the right foot of Evans and just under the flailing left foot of Philly goalkeeper Chris Seitz.
Then two minutes after Stahl was sent off, Montero took advantage. Seitz punched a corner kick out of the box, but Alonso volleyed down a shot that hopped off the wet turf, and was headed wide of the net. Montero never let it reach the end line, diving to head the drive just inside the far post and past a helpless Seitz.
``Montero's a poacher and he's going to score goals like that,'' Seitz said.
It was a long and wet night for the Union and some of the ``Sons of Ben'' supporters that made the trip from Philadelphia. The Union get a week off before playing their first home game on April 10 against D.C. United.
But Philadelphia wasn't afraid to get chippy. Danny Califf was carded in the first minute for taking down Montero, the first of six cards earned by the Union.
Former Seattle forward Sebastien Le Toux had the best scoring chance for the Union, beating Seattle keeper Kasey Keller in the 38th minute but Le Toux was offside.
``There is pressure on us in this first game too. People's expectation of 'what is Seattle going to be like this year?''' Seattle coach Sigi Schimd said. ``... Overall I'm pleased anytime we can get three points. I'm pleased we got the season off and rolling and I know better soccer is ahead for us.''