The Seattle Sounders got some of what they wanted from their Sunday evening match with Portland. They won that second meeting, 1-0, on a lovely flick header from their striker Eddie Johnson in the 60th minute of the match. The victory over their archrival Timbers moved Seattle into the bracket of teams that qualify for the payoffs, and left them only slightly behind the Timbers in the standings.
Nearly 68,000 fans came out for Sunday’s game, a regular season attendance record that rated worldwide attention. Only Dortmund in Germany’s world famous Bundesliga drew more fans. No other team in Major League Soccer is even close.
For a few big reasons and a thousand little ones, the Sounders can load that downtown stadium like a phone booth. Green-scarfed fans come from every direction. It is a big, green contentious company meeting. None of them talked of losing the game. Few mentioned how well the Timbers were playing. It was a summer Sunday eve, in our own home, with our new star player Clint Dempsey and it was too weird to think we could lose.
The playoffs are two months away. There will be many changes and much anxiety between now and then, but the Sounders have lagged outside the playoff bracket all season and they were palpably thrilled to win the game, and palpably thrilled to have it over with. A loss or even a tie would have been a disappointment.
Clint Dempsey is a new frontier as well. He is arguably the first premier soccer player to come to the MLS in the prime of his career. It helped that he is from Texas, that he is also a star on the US National team and that he played in the MLS seven years ago. But every team in the league noted his decision to play for Seattle. If Dempsey will come, then the league must be good enough for others of his caliber. Big house, big player, big night. Seattle keeps pushing the MLS boundaries, of talent and tally, a little farther.
It was the first time that Johnson (at left) and Dempsey had played together with the Sounders. When Nigerian forward, Obafemi Martins, who is injured at the moment, becomes available, perhaps this weekend, then, frankly, no one knows what we’ll have. Martins is a 5-foot, 7-inch rocket who makes the Sounders’ attack less a clump. His speed can slice the lines of a defense and once the lines are cut, you could imagine Dempseys and Johnsons all over the pitch. We’ll have to wait and see.
What the Sounders did not get on Sunday night was any sense of Timbers flinching. Portland was not intimidated by the crowd, or the moment. They are cool, tough customers, and they clearly enjoy the success that has kept them ahead of Seattle in the standings. Nothing would have pleased them more than to have won or at least tied the game. They were playing without their two best midfielders, Will Johnson and Diego Chara, but they didn’t seem to care.
The game nearly took a very different turn. Soccer is like that. You must watch all of it, closely. In the fifteenth minute, Timbers’ Ryan Johnson slipped behind the Sounder defense and would have scored but for the wonderful Seattle goal keeper Michael Gspurning, who made a brave and lovely save by rushing out and diving into the ball. Twenty minutes later, Timbers’ star Valeri took a long shot from the center that beat Gspurning by both speed and direction. Lucky for us, it just hit the frame.
If Portland scores on either shot, you have a very different game – and 68,000 very quiet green seats. Silencing a crowd provides as big a boost as having it roar for your side.
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