The Chicago Fire created some high quality scoring opportunities in the second half, but Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Kasey Keller was up to the task as the Sounders topped the Fire, 2-1, on Saturday at in front of a Qwest Field crowd of 36,223 in Seattle.
The Fire (1-1-1) suffered their first loss of the season, while the Sounders (1-2-2) garnered their first win. Chicago falls to 0-3-2 all-time against Seattle.
Trailing by a goal in the second half, the Fire had three big scoring chances in a nine-minute stretch from the 58th to 66th minutes, but Keller posted three of his game-high four saves to maintain Seattle's lead.
In the 58th, Fire midfielder Marco Pappa took a free kick that hit the Sounders' wall and was not cleared properly. Chicago forward Diego Chaves, who had scored his team-leading third goal earlier in the match, took a strike toward the near right post. But Keller dove to his left and got his left glove on the ball.
In the 61st, Gaston Puerari created an opening, but Keller came through with a foot save. And in the 66th, Pappa struck the ball with his cleats and tried to direct the ball to the right side of the frame, but Keller reacted quickly and pounced on the ball.
"He was clearly the man of the match and had great interventions," Chaves said. "He was the key for Seattle's victory."
The second half was a turnaround from the offense-heavy start to Saturday's game as both teams scored a goal in the first 10 minutes.
Seattle's O'Brian White headed the ball for a goal in the 7th minute to give the Sounders a 1-0 lead. Mauro Rosales provided a strong cross from the right side, and White battled in between Fire defenders Dasan Robinson and Jalil Anibaba, heading the ball inside the near right post for the early tally.
The Fire wasted no time getting right back into the match. Chaves became the first Fire player to score a goal in his first three league games. Patrick Nyarko had a crisp send from the right edge of the box, finding Chaves who put a simple touch to the inside of the left post.
Seattle had a roughly 2-to-1 edge in possession during the first half, and the Sounders capitalized on Steve Zakuani's speed down the left side against Anibaba to take a 2-1 lead in the 25th minute. White assisted on the play.
The Sounders had nearly taken the lead a couple minutes earlier in the 23rd, when Erik Friberg had an open goal in front of him but struck the ball over the crossbar. Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson made a risky decision to leave his line as Rosales easily beat Johnson to the ball and headed it toward Friberg.
Just before halftime, the Fire missed an opportunity to even things up in the 44th minute as Puerari headed the ball over the crossbar. The end result was not to Chicago's liking, but the setup was flawless as Gonzalo Segares might a nice run down the left side, overlapping with Pappa. Segares crossed the ball in, but Puerari could not put the ball on frame.
"My players had a very good effort, and we had some really good moments on the pitch," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "We had two mistakes and they took advantage."
Analysis: The Fire picked up the attack in the second half and created some regular chances. Keller just happened to play at the top of his game, and it was only a matter of time before the Sounders broke into the win column.
Robinson started in place of Josip Mikulic at center back. Mikulic, who injured his quad, did not travel with the team and his presence was missed. Robinson had a mixed performance that included some good clearances and aggressive play. But he also could not disrupt Seattle's game-winning goal. Robinson also looked dramatically slower than the Sounders' attacking group, which did not include striker Fredy Montero, who missed the match because of recent wrist surgery.
The Fire did not play a compact game, and that allowed for Seattle to dominate in possession early, create some chances and work the ball at various angles. In retrospect, the Sounders probably should have built a bigger lead, especially with Friberg's missed chance midway into the first half.
Despite playing in a hostile environment, the Fire stayed aggressive and attempted to salvage a point on the road. Puerari continues to maintain a high level of energy and Chaves already has become a regular goal-scorer.
You have to give credit where credit is due -- the Seattle goalkeeping was the clear-cut difference over the Fire. At 41 years old and battling through his final season, Keller can still piece together a world-class performance.