By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE, WA – Mauro Rosales is more subtle playmaker than big-time scorer, but his first goal of the 2012 season couldn’t have been any bigger for the Seattle Sounders Saturday afternoon.
The Argentine playmaker's powerful strike into the far corner of the net in the 64th minute was all even a patchwork lineup needed to preserve a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
The Union's anemic attack managed a lone shot on goal the entire afternoon, barely challenging goalkeeper Bryan Meredith in his first career start.
Philadelphia, off to a disappointing 2-5-1 start and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference after a promising sophomore campaign, had won two of their last three matches coming into the game but suffered a disappointing setback Saturday. After being shutout again, the Union have scored just five goals in eight matches and are tied with Chivas USA for last in the league in scoring.
"Our guys were a little hesitant to pull the trigger today," said Union coach John Hackworth, filling in for suspended head coach Peter Nowak. "We're just putting a lot of pressure on our defense and midfield, particularly when we don't stretch the field in attack."
Still, Hackworth saw positives in keeping the match close in a difficult venue, and emphasized the length of the MLS season. "It's still very in the year," he said, "so there's no need to hit the panic button yet."
The Sounders (6-1-1) are off to the best start in club history, taking full advantage of a schedule that saw them play six of their first eight matches in the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. Posting their fourth consecutive win, they have also become one of the league’s stingiest defensive teams, recording their fifth shutout in eight matches and lowering their goals-allowed average to a paltry 0.38.
With his team playing its third match in seven days and facing a midweek tilt at Dallas, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid rested regulars Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans. Midfielder Andy Rose joined Meredith in making his first career start.
And among the Sounders' starters on the back line Saturday, only Jeff Parke started Wednesday against the Galaxy. "I really think we have seven starters in back," said Schmid.
The match was not as close as the score made it seem. The Sounders controlled possession. They put up 19 shots compared to six for the Union. They dominated the shots-on-target category six-to-one. Seattle repeatedly hit the frame and forced Philadelphia goalkeeper Zac MacMath to record five saves.
"Week in, week out, Zack does a great job for us," said Hackworth.
Indeed, with MacMath in the net making quality saves, it looked for 60 minutes like the Union might escape Seattle with a point despite being outplayed. But then Fredy Montero beautifully paced a ball to Rosales on the right wing. Rosales one-touched a low hard shot across the face of the goal and past MacMath for the only score Seattle would need.
The Union's struggles were on display in a handful of plays throughout the afternoon from forward Lionard Pajoy. In a rare Philadelphia threat in the 44th minute, Pajoy danced around inside the box before weakly passing the ball directly to a defender. In the 57th minute he fielded a throw-in and delivered a perfect cross to a box inhabited solely by Meredith. And in the 77th minute he found space from distance, but sent a mishit ball rolling meekly toward the net for Meredith’s lone save of the day.
Still, Philadelphia managed to put some pressure on Seattle in the match's waning moments, pressure that wouldn't have been there if the Sounders could have found an insurance goal.
"One day those floodgates will open," said Schmid. "Today wasn't that day."
Looking forward, Philadelphia hosts an international friendly against FC Schalke 04 on Wednesday before returning to league play with a home date against Red Bull New York next Sunday. The Sounders busy schedule continues with a road date at Dallas Wednesday and a home match against Real Salt Lake next Saturday.