Sounders are victorious over a threatening Kitsap Pumas.
The Sounders hosted Kitsap Pumas Wednesday night in the fourth round of the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Pumas faced a daunting challenge against the Seattle Sounders, and a challenge made even more difficult by playing at Starfire, a place where the Sounders seldom lose. There were plenty of unusual and yet familiar changes going into this match. Firstly Brian Schmetzer was the head coach for this fixture, with Sigi Schmid taking in the match from the sidelines. The lineup was also predictably a mix of the younger faces as well as the less seen players. Tyler Miller was in goal for the full 90, along with seldom seen Zach Mathers and Nathan Sturgis. Some of the more familiar players who were looking to solidify their spot were Oniel Fisher, Tony Alfaro, Dylan Remick, Cristian Roldan, Aaron Kovar and Darwin Jones. The veteran players were slim initially, with the ever effective Zach Scott strapping on the captain’s armband and marshalling the team from the back line, with Herculez Gomez anchoring the attacking force.
The First Half:
Although some of the players weren’t as common place, it was an understandable strategy from Schmetzer, who must’ve been confident in that line up to handle the Kitsap Pumas. That confidence may have been tested in the first half. The Pumas were a physical force to be reckoned with, and their play bespoke of a team that was not ready to be knocked out of their USOC run. Within the second minute of the match, the Pumas tested Tyler Miller with a quick left footed shot just inside the box, the ball curling dangerously towards goal. Miller was present and on his toes and made the save with ease. As the half progressed, it became apparent that the Pumas played with a strong passing game, utilizing the midfield and back line to continue prodding the Sounders defense. The Pumas weren’t without some amateur mistakes, however, with their number 9 Hamza Haddadi picking up a yellow card for encroaching on a Sounders free kick from the Sounder defensive half. But if anything, it was representative of the Pumas attacking desire. The Sounders weren’t completely listless in the first half, creating some decent crosses from the right side. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of finishing potential coming from the box. Throughout the first half the Sounders’ play seemed pretty disjointed, Nathan Sturgis and Zach Mathers giving the ball away a every other pass. Tony Alfaro and Oniel Fisher demonstrated great work ethic, mixing themselves up in the attack while Hercules Gomez drew the attention of the Kitsap Pumas’ defensive line, but overall it felt like a Sounders team that had no rhythm, which ultimately is not unexpected, given the line up. The talent was present, the connections that come from playing together weren’t. That is what the Pumas brought for most of the match.
The Second Half:
The second half opened up with Erik Friberg coming on for Sturgis, who had taken a nasty knock right before the end of the first half.
Overall it was a fairly predictable result for the line up given. I would award Erik Friberg Man of the Match, if not for Zach Scott. Scott played the full 90, and provided the experienced eye to solve any threats coming from the dangerous Pumas side. I also think Gomez could have used that goal that was wrongfully denied by the missed handball, as he needs something to get his focus and game back to a productive level. That goal was unfortunately not tonight, but I imagine we will see more of Gomez before the tournaments up, especially without Clint Dempsey, who will most likely never play a USOC match again. We should appreciate the reasonably comfortable win, enjoy the younger players development and form, and take away the energy moving forward from the win at Starfire.