SEATTLE – For the first 59 minutes of Sounders FC’s match with the Portland Timbers at CenturyLink Field on Sunday night, the record-setting crowd in attendance and those watching on the national television broadcast got just what they expected out of the derby match.
It was chippy. It was loud. It was as fiercely contested a match as any in Major League Soccer.
The only thing it lacked to that point was a goal.
Eddie Johnson changed that with one flick of his head in the 60th minute and Seattle held on to that lead to earn a 1-0 victory to move to 11-8-4 on the season and fifth in the Western Conference.
“I thought it was a hard-fought game. It was an exciting game, for sure, for the fans,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “Obviously we’re pleased with being able to get a clean sheet in the back and we’re pleased we finished the one goal to give us the three points because that was the most important thing.”
The win came on a landmark day for soccer in Seattle. The crowd of 67,385 was the largest ever for a soccer match in Seattle and was the second-largest crowd in MLS history for a standalone match.
“Every player gets up to play in front of crowds like this,” Schmid said.
In the 60th minute, Johnson was brought down on a run up the left side by Pa-Modouh Kah, earning the Portland defender a yellow card.
Mauro Rosales, who had just entered the match four minutes earlier, put the free kick in from the left side, finding Johnson unmarked in the middle of the box, where he flicked a header inside the far post for his sixth goal of the season. It was the team-leading sixth assist of the year for Rosales and came on the first shot on goal of the match.
“I know when he’s out there, where he wants to put the ball,” Johnson said of Rosales. “It’s just about attacking it and getting on the end of it and fortunately it worked in my favor today.”
The Timbers looked ready from the start and put pressure on Michael Gspurning’s net from the start of the match. In just the third minute, Jack Jewsbury got his head to a ball from Diego Valeri, but it was headed just off frame.
In the 16th minute, Diego Valeri put Ryan Johnson through behind the Seattle defense and Gspurning sprung off his line and to meet him just inside the 18-yard box with a sliding stop, smothering the ball in his chest as Johnson jumped over him.
Then in the 35th minute, Valeri got to a loose ball at the top of the box and curved a shot around Osvaldo Alonso that hit hard off the frame. Ryan Johnson got his head to the rebound, but missed wide.
For Seattle, in the 37th minute Leo Gonzalez worked to get a cross in from the left side, finding Dempsey in the box, but it was just beyond his reach and his touch was knocked down by Donovan Ricketts to keep the match scoreless.
That’s the way things would stay until Eddie Johnson scored and the match began to open up.
Just two minutes after Sounders FC took the lead, Kalif Alhassan looked to equalize with a shot from distance, forcing Gspurning to dive to his left for his first save of the night.
Seattle responded quickly though and Eddie Johnson had two more shots saved before the final quarter-hour and Clint Dempsey had a flurry of half-chances in the box, but was unable to add to the lead.
In the final minutes of the match, Seattle called on Gspurning to preserve the victory.
In the 88th minute, Darlington Nagbe took a right-footed shot from distance and Gspurning used all of his six-foot-five-inch frame and reach to parry the bar away for a corner kick.
In stoppage time, he saved headers from Andrew Jean-Baptiste and, just before the final whistle, Kah and earned his seventh shutout of the season.
“It was good we got the three points. We controlled many parts of the game. It was a great game, exciting game. Getting the three points in a rivalry, the confidence was great for us. 70,000 people to go along with it in the stadium, how good is that?” Rosales said. “Now everybody is going home happy.”
The match marked the home debut of Clint Dempsey and he finished the night with four shots and completed over 85-percent of his passes, but is still in search of his first goal or assist with the club.
“I had a little bit of a heavy touch in the first half. I could have done a little bit better with that,” Dempsey said. “It’s just a matter of time before goals and assists start coming. I’m happy with the touches that I was getting, but more importantly I’m happy with the way the team played and performed in getting the three points. I don’t score if I score at all as long as we keep winning. That’s the most important thing.”
Sounders FC will take to the road next week to meet the Columbus Crew before returning to CenturyLink Field for three straight home matches against Chivas USA, the Chicago Fire and Real Salt Lake.
Sounders FC – Eddie Johnson (Mauro Rosales) 60.
Timbers – None.
Sounders FC – None.
Timbers – Pa Modou Kah (caution) 59.
Sounders FC – Michael Gspurning, DeAndre Yedlin, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Zach Scott, Leo Gonzalez, Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, Shalrie Joseph (Mauro Rosales 56), Lamar Neagle (Djimi Traore 91+), Eddie Johnson (Servando Carrasco 96+), Clint Dempsey.
Timbers – Donovan Ricketts, Alvas Powell (Sal Zizzo 81), Pa Modou Kah, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Michael Harrington, Jack Jewsbury (Ben Zemanski 86), Kalif Alhassan, Diego Valeri, Rodney Wallace, Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Johnson (Jose Adolfo Valencia 61).