Normally, that would have been fodder for all the soccer haters insisting the sport is the epitome of boredom. Under other circumstances, that 0-0 tie between the Sounders and San Jose in Orlando would have served as an argument that a Disney Plus binge has more entertainment value than 90 minutes of futbol.
But in this case, seeing a local team from one of the five most-watched sports leagues was more comforting than it was dull. There was a time when we wondered whether we’d see the Sounders — or any team, really — take the field again. In that sense, Friday’s tie was a victory.
It had been nearly four months since the defending MLS champs played a competitive match, as the coronavirus wiped out sports throughout the spring and early summer. And as the NBA, MLB and NHL seasons have yet to return, the Sounders returning to action offered a sense of normalcy that has been ever elusive.
No, it wasn’t pretty. Yes, players were clearly shaking off some rust. And watching a fanless match was an eerie preview of what will become the temporary norm in sports.
Still, seeing the likes of Nico Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan and Stefan Frei was a welcome sight, considering we had no idea when they’d return to the pitch a couple months back.
As for the game itself? Not a whole lot of scoring opportunities. The majority of San Jose’s 16 shots came from long distance. Seattle’s chances were scarce as well, although Roldan and Raul Ruidiaz each appeared as though they could have knocked one into the net at one point.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer felt his team should have scored at least once in each half, but understands misfires are inevitable after returning to play after such a lengthy layoff.
“Fitness level of all the teams, you saw the first couple of games, players are going to get fatigued,” Schmetzer said, adding that the 88 percent humidity wasn’t an issue in his team’s performance. “The first few games of a normal MLS season you have some of that same type of play, you know, guys are not quite as sharp. I saw the replay on Raul’s chance, I saw Cristian’s chance. If they’re in midseason form maybe they make those goals, maybe they finish those plays.”
This is no doubt the antithesis of a “normal season.” FC Dallas, which was initially slated as the Sounders’ second opponent in this MLS is Back Tournament, pulled out due to 10 players testing positive for the coronavirus. Teams are essentially sequestered at the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort when not playing, and must undergo testing every time they leave the facility.
But complaints appear to be scarce. The fact they are playing at all is a blessing. So though a tie wasn’t an ideal result, it was an acceptable one.
“Happy to get the first game out of the way, the butterflies out of the way, get a point,” Frei said. “No injuries and in difficult conditions. It’s something to build on.”
Added Roldan: “In the end, obviously sloppy play, first game in three months. It probably was going to be summed up like that, but if we could have taken one or two opportunities, we’d be happy with the result.”
Kickoff Friday night for the Sounders was after 9 p.m. EST. Kickoff Tuesday against Chicago will be at 9 a.m. EST. It’s a fairly significant shift when it comes to sleep patterns, but this is the new normal.
But given what’s transpired over the past few months, and given the absence of sports during that time, any kind of normal will do.