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Originally published October 29, 2009 at 9:45 PM | Page modified October 30, 2009 at 12:31 AM

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Steve Kelley

This tie was a loss: Sounders FC's home-field advantage is gone

Tie as good as a win for Dynamo, as series heads back to Houston.

Seattle Times staff columnist

In the first playoff game of their remarkable first season, Sounders FC lost to Houston 0-0.

That's right. This was a tie that felt like a loss. A tie that was as satisfying as a stale beer on an angry Sunday morning.

It was like having a great date and only getting a handshake, not even a hug, at the door at the end of the night.

It was a tie that deeded the home-field edge in this home-and-home first round of the Western Conference semifinals to Houston.

Bodies dropped. Blood flowed. It was as rough as a German League game from the 1970s. Houston set a tone early that it wasn't going to be intimidated by the Qwest Field crazies.

Chance after chance was created by Seattle. But no goals were scored on a painful night that had the feel of the last home game of the season.

The Sounders pushed forward. Houston, playing with a sort of rope-a-dope mentality, knowing the second game of the series would be played on its pitch, was content to let the Sounders press the attack.

The Sounders tried to play up-tempo. Houston stalled them with soccer's version of Dean Smith's old Four Corners, playing one-touch keepaway for much of the long, frustrating 90 minutes.

Seattle took haymaker shots. Houston played counterpuncher. The Dynamo came into the game believing that nil-nil was as good as a win. It was.

At times the game was rough. At times it was ragged. At times it was as chippy as a Stanley Cup match. And, at other times, it felt as intense as a game of chicken.

So the Sounders attacked and as the second half flew by the way the best minutes of your life do, desperation seeped into Seattle's attack.

In the 61st minute, Nate Jaqua knocked a pass to Fredy Montero inside the box. Montero spun, shielded his Houston defender, but slid his shot just wide, as keeper Pat Onstad dived to the right.

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As all good strikers should, Jaqua was in the heart of the action.

Halfway through the first half, blood was dripping down his face after an accidental boot to his forehead. Of course that shouldn't be surprising. Blood always seems to drip down Jaqua's face when he plays at home against Houston.

At Starfire, in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup, Jaqua was cut and played much of the game with a bandage wrapped around his head that made him look like a Minuteman. He looked the part again on Thursday.

For most of the night, this first game of the series was as ugly as that gash on his head.

The tackling was hard and often late. There was more clutching and tugging than on a night of "Dancing With the Stars." Referee Ricardo Salazar was dealing yellow cards as if he was working the blackjack tables at the MGM Grand.

It was playoff soccer. The beautiful game played with a clenched fist.

For 90 minutes, on a raw night that made Qwest feel a bit like Old Trafford in December, Sounders FC pressed the attack against Onstad.

A deadly header by defender Patrick Ianni had to be cleared off the line by Brian Mullan. Seconds later, Onstad angrily chested Montero to the ground in front of the Dynamo's goal.

For the rest of the night, the rabid 35,807, the seventh-largest crowd in MLS playoff history, booed Onstad as if he were Alex Rodriguez every time he touched the ball.

They came to erupt when the Sounders finally penetrated the great wall in front of Onstad. But they left frustrated from all of the almosts, all of the scoring opportunities their team couldn't finish.

In the 43rd minute, magical midfielder Freddie Ljungberg slung a cross onto Jaqua's bandaged forehead. Jaqua outjumped Andrew Hainault, but his header hit the cross bar.

And in the 74th minute, another Jaqua quick-strike header from another Ljungberg corner was tipped over the bar by Onstad.

Deep into stoppage time, Roger Levesque, the Sounders' lucky charm, had one more chance. But his desperation shot went wide.

There was no lucky charm on Thursday night, and now comes the strange nine-day halftime until Game 2 a week from Sunday, and a long way from Qwest.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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