Photo by Jose M. Romero
By JOSE M. ROMERO
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Operators of the still-to-be completed Westside Soccer Complex in this bedroom community west of Phoenix charged admission to watch the Seattle Sounders and Columbus Crew play a preseason match Thursday afternoon.
They shouldn't have, just on principle. Or they should have refunded the handful of paying customers, most if not all who were Sounders fans, their money.
Seattle too often looked disengaged, disjointed and dragging in a 3-0 loss to the Crew. Columbus looked sharper in possession of the ball, it made better runs at the goal and put more pressure on the Sounders' backline while the Crew defenders kept almost everything out of the middle and forced the Sounders' faster attacking players to the wings.
Andres Mendoza controlled a high pass from teammate Emilio Renteria on the run, then had an open look at the net and fired the ball with just enough force to get past Kasey Keller for the Crew's most meaningful goal of the game in the 20th minute. Veteran forward Jeff Cunningham had a hand in the other two, his push forward forcing a deflection backwards from Sounders right back Zach Scott that turned into an own-goal.
Cunningham scored one of his own a minute later in the third of three periods, beating rookie Josh Ford to put an exclamation point on the Crew's convincing win.
The final two goals came against a team of young and rarely-used subs, which Cunningham had his way with. But the Crew defense shut down the Sounders' first unit, highlighted by Rich Balchan's ability to run with the fleet Steve Zakuani, the Sounders' most dangerous scoring threat from the left wing.
"We beat Vancouver, Vancouver beats Columbus, Columbus beats us," Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. "It all gets (twisted) around."
For Schmid, the most important thing was to see players competing for a roster spot at other positions on the field. Roger Levesque, a forward in the two seasons prior to this one, played right midfield Thursday and has played right back in games. Lamar Neagle came on as a sub during the second 45-minute period (two 45s and a 30) and played left midfield.
Schmid also wanted to see striker Fredy Montero (in photo above) and instant-offense forward Mike Fucito together. Fucito and second-year forward David Estrada was Seattle's most effective forward tandem, putting a lot of heat on the Crew defense in the early part of the second period.
"Some guys got some plus points, some guys got some minus points, and as a team it gives us a better picture of what we've got to continue to work on. Get a little bit quicker with the ball and movement off the ball has to be better."
The Sounders lost for the first time in the 2011 preseason after a win and a draw.
Schmid was critical of his starters, a group that included a lot of players that will likely be among the 11 Sounders on the field for First Kick next month. Montero and O'Brian White were the forwards; Zakuani, Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso and Alvaro "Flaco" Fernandez were in the midfield and Leo Gonzalez, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Patrick Ianni and James Riley were the defenders with Keller in goal.
"To be very honest, I think if you asked the guys who played in the first unit, they would say they weren't happy with their play," Schmid said. "We gave up a soft goal (to Mendoza) where I think you have to let the guy run offsides or we gotta do better in terms of making the save and I felt we didn't create enough chances up front, so I thought were a little bit stagnant in that first group."
The exception was Hurtado, who is coming back from a major knee injury. He was a force on defense, delivering a punishing but legal tackle on the Crew's Emmanuel Ekpo in the 14th minute.
The Crew's starting lineup was Ray Burse in goal; Sebastian Miranda (in photo above in yellow), Chad Marshall, Balchan and Shaun Francis on defense; Robbie Rogers, Kevin Burns, Ekpo and Dilly Duka at midfielders and Renteria and Mendoza up top.