Who says Fernandez can't play rough?
It's early; two matches down, 32 (over seven long months) to go. But this already has the feeling of


Sounders Aren't Following the Script, But a 3-0 Start is 90 Minutes Away

Who says Fernandez can't play rough?
It's early; two matches down, 32 (over seven long months) to go. But this already has the feeling of a season to remember for Sounders FC, and the next step comes Saturday night when San Jose--in the first of a dozen home contests against Western Conference foes--shows up at the Clink.

The Earthquakes, who won MLS Cups in 2001 and '03 but have missed the playoffs three of the past four years, haven't done well here, outscored 6-3 in dropping three of four matches. But they're 2-1 after an impressive 3-0 win at Toronto FC, the club the Sounders dispatched 3-1 here a week earlier. After tying for the league lead with 16 goals last year, forward Chris Wondolowski has picked up where he left off, scoring three times in as many starts.

Assuming the Sounders' defense can limit Wondolowski's scoring opportunities, this is the kind of match--at home, against an opponent that doesn't quite match up talent-wise--that good teams find a way to win, leaving Seattle 90-plus minutes from its first 3-0 start since 2009, its inaugural season.

Four weeks into this gig, I figured it would be a good time to introduce myself.

Soccer fans are passionate about their love of the game, and those who write about soccer should share and reflect that passion, tempering it--at least if they claim to be journalists--with context, objectivity, and balance. I'm a soccer fan (going back four decades) first, a Sounders fan second, and I recognize and celebrate a soccer tradition in Seattle that dates back to the '70s and beyond.

I've been a journalist for 27 years; when I started writing about sports for a living, Ozzie Alonso, Brad Evans and Alvaro Fernandez were wearing diapers, not Sounders shorts. After serving previously with the P-I, Times, and, where I was soccer editor from 1998-2000, I've spent the past five years with the Weekly as a proofreader, copy editor, and contributing writer.

I hope you enjoy reading what I have to say, all the way though October and hopefully into November--but even if you don't, I hope you'll let me know. I'd prefer that you don't cloak your opinions in the veil of anonymity--if you feel strongly enough to comment about something, at least attach your first name to it--but if that's the way you roll, please keep it civil and respect the opinions of others.

The Sounders are winning--though it was gritty, not pretty, Friday night against an overly physical Houston side--and not in the manner many had anticipated: No minutes for the injured Eddie Johnson, no goals for the prolific Fredy Montero; the talented right side of Mauro Rosales and Adam Johansson has been sidelined; returning starters Jeff Parke and Leo Gonzalez are out of favor in the back four. Parke, voted the Sounders' top defender last season, isn't happy about it.

None of that has mattered so far, with a great strength of this roster--quality depth--coming into play early on, producing unheralded heroes and stirring victories. With four goals (only one guided by luck) in his first two MLS starts, David Estrada has been a revelation--but he's had plenty of company.

The biggest question entering the season is being answered by Michael Gspurning (don't pronounce the "G"), whose leaping, lunging, fingertip deflection of Houston forward Will Bruin's rising shot in the 17th minute was, well, Kelleresque. The Austrian keeper, with three inches and 15 pounds on his predecessor, has rebounded strongly the past two weeks after the debacle at Santos Laguna, turning away four of the five shots on goal allowed by a stingy defense and earning what should be the first of what should be numerous shutouts in a Seattle uniform. No keeper--including Keller in his prime--could have denied the lone goal he's allowed, an upper-corner blast from distance by Toronto's Ryan Johnson.

In front of Gspurning, mainstay Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni, coming off the bench, have been solid up the middle. Marc Burch, reunited with Sigi Schmid five years after their time together in Columbus, has established himself at left back. Johansson was well on his way to doing the same on the right before his hamstring betrayed him last Tuesday, and his absence vs. Houston gave backup Zach Scott an opportunity.

Up front, Estrada has been the beneficiary of great play from his former position, midfield. Osvaldo Alonso, all about possession and tenacity, is the heartbeat of this team. Alvaro Fernandez has hit his stride in his second full season, orchestrating the offense and creating scoring opportunities from the left side. Brad Evans is a threat with both feet and head, and Christian Sivebæk is too big, fast and talented to sit for long. With room for four in Sigi's scheme, this midfield goes six deep (don't forget Roger Levesque), with more young talent in reserve--and that's before Steve Zakuani's much-anticipated return.

If the Sounders can get the result on March's final day, April promises more of the same, with three matches, two on the road (D.C. and Chicago), all winnable. The home date, April 14, will be emotionally charged--it's the first of two visits by Colorado and the appearance of Brian Mullan, nearly a year to the day after the Rapids midfielder's reckless two-footed challenge on Zakuani fractured the rising star's right tibia and fibula.

With those hurdles cleared, the season's first real test may not arrive until May 2, a Wednesday night, when the defending champion L.A. Galaxy (other than Portland, there's no team Seattle wants more to beat) and its plethora of high-priced offensive talent comes to town. Six months down the road, it could well be a playoff pairing.

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