WASHINGTON, D.C. - There are games where Kasey Keller is credited with a high number of saves but doesn’t feel like he has to work hard to earn them.
Thursday at RFK Stadium was not one of those nights as Keller was tested throughout the match against DC United. The Sounders FC goalkeeper had five saves, none of which was routine, and was pushed to the limit even further when he suffered a right foot sprain on a second-half collision.
In the end, he finished with his fifth shutout of the season and Roger Levesque scored his first goal of the year as the Sounders improve to 5-8-4 on the season.
“The three points is everything - we’re just so happy,” Keller said. “We needed something to go our way. We’ve played well enough to win games, and we’ve given up late goals for draws, and it just felt good to keep that cleansheet, and to win 1-0, and for Roger to pop up at the end.”
DC United put the pressure on early as Santino Quaranta rolled a ball out to Andy Najar on the right side and Najar ripped a wicked shot, but Keller went to the ground and blocked the ball clear for his first save of the night in the eighth minute.
In the 19th minute it was former Sounder Stephen King who blasted a ball on frame that forced Keller to dive to his right to stab it clear.
As the second half wore on, the game looked to be headed for a scoreless draw when Najar got out on a run up the right side. The last line of defense between Najar and the goal, Keller darted out and tried to knock it clear but Najar slid in first and caught Keller on the right foot, knocking him to the turf just outside the box. Najar then passed to Quaranta for a lob-shot that forced Patrick Ianni to head it away for the save right in front of the net.
Already using a substitute to replace defender Jeff Parke, who suffered abdominal cramping that forced him from the game in the 61st minute, Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid was hesitant to use another to replace his goalkeeper unless Keller could not continue. He avoided kicking the ball, but was still forced into some dramatic runs to stop pressure by DC United attackers.
Keller hobbled around, but remained on the field. As the game continued, Keller threw the ball rather than kicking it down field and had his defenders take free kicks in his place. That didn’t keep him from coming up big in other moments though, as he made another save and was roughed up on the ensuing corner kick and made another save on a 76th minute shot from Quaranta.
His greatest moment of the match came in the 86th minute, though, as Najar crossed a ball to the middle. It took a deflection off Branko Boskovic and then off James Riley before Keller dove to his right to make the spectacular grab for the last of his five saves.
Moments later, Sanna Nyassi subbed into the game and set up the game-winning goal. Nyassi took the ball off the foot of Jordan Graye then carried it to the middle of the field before sliding it right for Fredy Montero on a run up the right side of the box. Montero gathered the ball and crossed it past Graye to Levesque at the far post for a diving header, just barely evading Dejan Jakovic for the game-winning goal.
“I thought we battled. I thought we fought today. Everyone fought for each other and everyone was doing everything they needed to do - to defend, to attack, to keep the ball,” Levesque said. “Just doing the right things on the field - I think we showed a lot of heart, and getting that goal late was a full team effort. Kasey making some big saves off the line, guys clearing the ball off the line, it was just a complete team effort tonight.”
It was Levesque’s first goal of the season, but his third in the last four Sounders FC road victories, dating back to last season. Levesque was a game day decision to start in place of Nate Jaqua, who suffered a groin strain that kept him out of the match.
“I thought we came out and we fought and we battled in the first half,” Schmid said. “I thought in the second half D.C. picked up the tempo a little bit. We’ve been giving up some late goals, so it was nice to do the reverse this time.”
Of the 13,716 in attendance, there was a strong contingent of Sounders FC fans, in part because of a Microsoft convention in DC that saw several employees in rave green shirts dispersed throughout the stadium. Those fans erupted loudly after Levesque’s goal, creating near a hometown feel for Seattle.
The Sounders FC move into a tie for sixth place in the Western Conference with the win. They host the Colorado Rapids July 25 at Qwest Field in their next MLS match. First though, they will host Celtic FC of the Scottish Premier League Sunday in a friendly at Qwest Field.
Sounders FC - Roger Levesque (Fredy Montero, Sanna Nyassi) 89.
DC United - None.
Sounders FC - Kasey Keller, James Riley, Jeff Parke (Tyrone Marshall 62), Patrick Ianni, Leo Gonzalez, Pat Noonan (Sanna Nyassi 88), Nathan Sturgis, Michael Seamon (Osvaldo Alonso 73), Steve Zakuani, Fredy Montero, Roger Levesque.
DC United - Troy Perkins, Jordan Graye, Julius James, Dejan Jakovic, Devon McTavish (Adam Cristman 81), Andy Najar, Clyde Simms, Stephen King (Branko Boskovic 72), Chris Pontius, Jaime Moreno (Pablo Hernandez 56), Santino Quaranta.