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Mar 20, 2009

Sounders make Red Bulls look like an expansion team

SEATTLE -- Opening night for the MLS incarnation of the Seattle Sounders had all the feeling of a blockbuster movie premiere. There was the excited, energetic audience, which helped create a dramatic backdrop. There was Sigi Schmid serving as the award-winning director, showing why his magic touch as coach had led to honors in the past. And then there was Fredy Montero, who played the role of leading man, providing moments of brilliance on a night that won't soon be forgotten in Seattle.

A sea of emerald-green jerseys and scarves filled Qwest Stadium in a stunning display that demanded a impressive performance from the home team. The Sounders delivered a 3-0 win over New York, jumping on the Red Bulls with two first-half goals and an relentless attack that kept the visitors on their back foot for much of the match. Seattle took its chances well and prevented the Red Bulls from finding many of their own. Montero put the finishing touch on the victory by forcing a turnover and scoring his second goal of the night, writing the ending to a perfect start for MLS's 15th franchise.

"You saw it out there today," Schmid said. "It exceeded everything I expected. Guys who've been in this community for a long time, it's got to just make them so proud of what happened.

"It was everything I expected and more, and I think it will continue to be."

"It's like a reward for all those people who've done all the hard work to prepare where we are today," Sounders technical director Chris Henderson said. "I grew up watching the Sounders in the NASL and I never forgot the atmosphere, and I think those fans have been here and I think soccer's been forgotten a little bit in Seattle, but now it's back."

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It's hard to argue with that sentiment, considering the 22,000 season tickets Seattle has sold. The Sounders filled cavernous Qwest Field with knowledgeable fans who helped create the soundtrack of an experienced soccer crowd, rather than simply an excited crowd enjoying something new.

Whether seasoned soccer experts or new fans taking in their first match, all the Sounders fans in attendance could appreciate the two-goal, one-assist performance Montero delivered in his MLS debut. At times, he seemed to toy with the Red Bulls, making the ball do his bidding like a cat with a ball of string. He showed every aspect of his game on Thursday, from dead-eye finishing, to pinpoint passing, to creativity on the ball.

"There's things that he does, it doesn't matter what league you're in," Henderson said of Montero. "It's not only what he does in front of goal. It's the stuff he does setting up other players and his velvet touch."

If the night was a perfect one for the Sounders, it was a perfectly awful one for the Red Bulls. Coach Juan Carlos Osorio fielded a slow back four that seemed tailor-made for a dismantling at the hands of a speedy Seattle attack. With Montero using his vision and passing ability to pick apart the Red Bulls, fellow attackers Sanna Nyassi and Sebastian Le Toux running rings around their opponents, and the Sounders' defense applying constant pressure on the Red Bulls' top playmakers, New York never stood a chance.

"The first goal changed the whole game," Osorio said. "After that, we just found it hard to get our attacking players in the game. There were one too many missing today. If I am honest, I would probably say we only had one or two players playing to their potential.

"We tried to compete, but we were just too far away from them. It would be very unfair to say that it was just the back four or back five. I think, in general, we were very poor."

The Red Bulls are buoyed by the knowledge that help is on the way in the coming weeks. Newly acquired fullbacks Alfredo Pacheco and Carlos Johnson should be eligible to play for the Red Bulls in the next two weeks, as should Spanish midfielder Albert Celades. Throw in left winger Khano Smith, who missed Thursday's match due to suspension, and Seth Stammler, who missed the match recovering from knee surgery, and you have five players Osorio will be in a hurry to put in his starting lineup after Thursday's thoroughly disappointing display.

Whether or not those reinforcements will help the Red Bulls turn things around remains to be seen, but one thing is clear. New York looked more like an expansion team than Seattle did, still working out the kinks after piecing together a team in the offseason.

The Sounders, on the other hand, looked like a team capable of making its inaugural season an unforgettable one. Backed by a captivated city and a fervent fan base, the newest team in MLS is off to a dream start that will have the rest of the league wondering what the Sounders will do for an encore.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.

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