The Seattle Sounders are 0-2 for the second time in their eight Major League Soccer seasons, while they seem to be losing starters like never before.
One of those injuries — to goalkeeper Stefan Frei — might have been decisive in Seattle’s 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
Frei was held out due to elbow inflammation. He was replaced by second-year keeper Tyler Miller, who was pushed into his first MLS start on his 23rd birthday.
Miller made a confidence-building acrobatic save early. But there didn’t seem to be anything that most keepers could have done with Sunny’s solidly struck equalizer in the 43rd minute.
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But that wasn’t the case with RSL’s winning goal, which came in the 86th minute when 6-foot-3, 210-pound defender Jamison Olave beat the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Miller to a pop-fly of a cross in front of the goal and muscled the winner into the net.
“I have to do better on the second goal and get that ball out of there,” Miller said. “… He just got up higher than me. Whether it was a foul or not, I don’t know. That’s up to the referee: He didn’t call a foul, so it’s not a foul. I just have to do better there: Get up, punch it away.”
Naturally, there’s no guarantee Frei would have prevented the goal. Just six days earlier, Frei had taken the blame for a misplayed shot that was the difference in the Sounders’ 1-0 opening loss to Sporting Kansas City.
But starters are starters for a reason: They’re generally better than the guys behind them. And just two weeks into the season, young reserves filling in for high-priced veterans have become the story of Seattle’s season.
Starters Erik Friberg and Tyrone Mears missed the opener. Both returned Saturday — although in Friberg’s case, only briefly. After being cleared at midweek after concussion protocol, Friberg played only 17 minutes of the RSL game before leaving with an apparent leg injury. He would eventually be followed to the bench by forwards Jordan Morris and Nelson Valdez.
There was no immediate update on their status for next weekend, when the Vancouver Whitecaps visit CenturyLink Field. But suddenly the Sounders’ preseason problem of too many star forwards seems like a pleasant, but distant, memory. Obafemi Martins transferred out. Valdez and Morris haven’t scored and now have health questions. Clint Dempsey hasn’t scored either, but at least he’s upright.
That leaves defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso as the team’s only goal-scorer this season. He put Seattle ahead in the 28th minute after a Joevin Jones cross, which Valdez redirected on goal. That shot was saved by veteran keeper Nick Rimando, but Alonso swooped in and sent it in with a high right foot from a few yards out. It was his first MLS goal since 2012.
“I’m happy to score my first goal of the season,” Alonso said. “But it’s more important to me to get the three points.”
That didn’t happen, as the Sounders were unable to preserve the lead even to halftime — a problem that emerged during CONCACAF Champions League and has lingered into the MLS season.
“It’s very difficult,” said Cristian Roldan, who replaced Friberg. “It’s been happening to us three of our four games. It’s very hard to deal with because you come into halftime with your head down because you think that you should be up.”
Even after the more painful goal was surrendered in the final minutes, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid indicated he would not allow heads to stay down for long.
“Who wants to be 0-2 after two weeks? Obviously you’d rather be 2-0,” Schmid said. “But it is what it is, and we’ve got to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and go forward and play. We’re not going to go home and feel sorry for ourselves.”