SEATTLE – Two of the hottest teams in Major League Soccer squared off at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night as the duel between Sounders FC and the Chicago Fire had the intensity to match the form of the two teams.
Mike Magee struck first for Chicago, but Lamar Neagle fired back and Seattle was the benefactor of a late own-goal to keep its home unbeaten streak alive at 12 games at CenturyLink Field without a defeat with the 2-1 victory.
“What I liked is our character,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “We kept plugging away. We kept battling and we fought until the end of the game.”
Obafemi Martins returned to the starting lineup after missing the last four matches with an ankle injury and was a persistent threat from the opening kick, getting into the box three times in the first three minutes. He would finish with a game-high four shots, forcing Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson into two saves.
In the sixth minute, Chris Rolfe hit a shot from the top of the box, but Michael Gspurning dove to his left to punch the shot clear for his first save of the night.
The teams would trade opportunities over the first half-hour, but in the 25th minute Chicago ended Seattle’s shutout streak at 311 minutes on a goal from Magee.
The pesky forward got behind the defense on a ball from Dilly Duka and slipped his shot inside the far post for his 15th goal of the season, drawing him even with Marco Di Vaio for the league lead, putting the Fire up 1-0.
“Invariably in our sport that seems to happen when you negate a few chances or you don’t take advantage of the chances you get,” Schmid said.
Sounders FC had a chance to equalize minutes later when Bakary Soumare was whistled for a handball in the box. Osvaldo Alonso stepped to the penalty spot, but Johnson dove to his right to save his 30th minute shot from the mark, keeping Seattle in search of another opportunity to even things up.
In the 40th minute, they found it.
Martins got things started with some crafty ballwork on the left wing to elude two defenders. The ball then switched to the right side for a cross from Mauro Rosales that went through to the far side. Marc Burch recovered the ball and found Neagle alone at the edge of the six-yard box for a left-footed shot that he popped into the back of the net for his seventh goal of the season to make it 1-1.
“We definitely should have finished a couple more and made it a more comfortable game from the start,” Neagle said. “We had confidence from the start. We knew that it was going to keep coming as long as we were going to keep getting balls in the box. We were pretty confident that we were going to get one.”
The duel continued in the second half and concluded in dramatic fashion.
While the first half was ripe with opportunities for both teams, the second half turned into much more of a battle in the midfield. The result was more fouls and fewer shots, but the intensity remained high for both sides.
“I think we kind of knew that it was going to be a battle from the start. We were ready for a fight and we always are and we will never back down from anybody,” Neagle said. “If the game gets a little bit chippy, that’s fine with us.”
The scoring chances were limited, but both sides sought a game-winner. It wouldn’t finally come until the final minutes were ticking away.
Second-half substitute Zach Scott pressed up the left side and crossed the ball to the center of the center of the box where Andy Rose was sliding in for an attempt. The ball skipped past Rose, but in an effort to make a clearance Gonzalo Segares knocked it into the net for an own goal.
While not the prettiest of victories, Sounders FC has now won four straight matches and seven of its last eight.
“A winner is a winner,” smiled Burch. “We’ll take the three points and leave.”
The win lifts Seattle to 14-8-4 and in second place in the Western Conference. Sounders FC will host MLS-leading Real Salt Lake on Friday in a nationally televised match on NBC Sports.
Sounders FC – Lamar Neagle (Marc Burch) 40; Own Goal (Gonzalo Segares) 89.
Fire – Mike Magee (Dilly Duka) 25.
Sounders FC – Mauro Rosales (caution) 48; Leo Gonzalez (caution) 71.
Fire – Bakary Soumare (caution) 29; Dilly Duka (caution) 41; Daniel Paladini (caution) 87.
Sounders FC – Michael Gspurning, DeAndre Yedlin, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Djimi Traore, Leo Gonzalez, Mauro Rosales (David Estrada 80), Osvaldo Alonso, Andy Rose, Marc Burch (Zach Scott 82), Lamar Neagle, Obafemi Martins (Servando Carrasco 91+).
Fire – Sean Johnson, Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry, Bakary Soumare, Gonzalo Segares, Alex, Logan Pause, Jeff Larentowicz, Dilly Duka (Patrick Nyarko 67), Mike Magee (Juan Luis Anangono 46), Chris Rolfe (Daniel Paladini 84).