After a string of three straight shutouts – including a 2-0 win over the Washington Crossfire on June 8 at Franklin Pierce High School – the Sounders U-23s find themselves in first place in the PDL’s Northwest Division, just ahead of the Kitsap Pumas and Portland Timbers U-23s.
Sean Okoli got the Sounders off to a quick start against the Crossfire, taking a pass on the right side of the box, flicking the ball to himself and driving a one-touch shot past Crossfire keeper Andrew Holte, off the left post and in for a 1-0 lead.
“I checked my shoulder, just flicked it over (the defender’s) head and just hit it,” Okoli said. “I tried to put a little side-spin on it and it went off the far post and in.”
Okoli had another good look in the 28th minute off a header from Sean Morris, but his blast was deflected out by Holte. The Sounders played solid defense in holding Crossfire without a shot on target the entire first half, as DeAndre Yedlin and Anthony Arena were key to the effort.
“Everybody’s buying into it together,” said head coach Darren Sawatzky. “You’ve got a guy like Anthony Arena who directs traffic back there. Doug Herrick, he’s as good as any goalkeeper I’ve seen. I’m really pleased about the group fighting together.”
The Crossfire came out aggressive in the second half, mounting one of their best chances in the 56th minute when Benjamin Fisk struck a low shot that was grabbed by Herrick. The Sounders then had a chance to add on in the 73rd minute when Aodhan Quinn sent a low ball to Jamael Cox at the top of the box, but his shot skipped just right of goal. Cox helped put the game away five minutes later, however, as he took a short pass off a corner and sent a chip in the box to Fernando Monge, who slammed a header in the right to make it 2-0.
“Of course on dead balls you’re always looking to get free, and Fernando’s a cheeky little player and he got some space, and (it was) a well-delivered ball and he finished it,” Sawatzky said. “It feels good to see those things come to fruition.”
The victory put the Sounders into a momentary tie for first in the division, but Sean Morris, Quinn and Okoli each tallied first-half goals in the 3-0 win over the NorthSound Seawolves on June 10. That, coupled with a draw between Portland and Kitsap, put the Sounders in first for the moment. The strong Sounders defense will be tested, though, in a key match on June 15 at Franklin Pierce against Kitsap – who beat the Sounders 3-1 earlier this year.
“Our defense has been putting out for us all season, and they just kept doing it today,” Okoli said after the victory over Crossfire. “We’ve got strong leaders back there like (Anthony) and DeAndre just making sure everything’s secure. Hopefully we keep it going and keep getting these clean sheets.”