SEATTLE – Sounders FC inched closer to clinching a playoff berth on Sunday night at CenturyLink Field, but a second-half equalizer from Tim Cahill kept Seattle from sealing its fifth straight spot in the postseason.
Sounders FC dominated the first half, but could only garner a 1-0 lead out of the performance on a Brad Evans penalty kick and New York bounced back in a much more balanced second half to find the equalizer and Seattle settled for the 1-1 draw against the top team in the Eastern Conference.
“I thought we were a little fortunate tonight,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “But I don’t think it was our best soccer. I know we can play better than we played tonight. We still came out with a tie, so we got a point and we still have some games in hand. But when we play at home, we’d like to win.”
While dominating possession, Seattle was able to generate very little on the offensive side through the first 25 minutes. Then it unloaded a barrage of 10 shots over the final 20 minutes of the first half, eventually finding a 1-0 halftime lead.
In the 26th minute, Mauro Rosales sent a free kick toward the penalty spot where Eddie Johnson rose above the defense, but put his header just wide of the near post on Seattle’s first shot of the match.
Seattle nearly grabbed the lead in the 35th minute. Rosales dummied his way around David Carney to get free up the right sideline. His cross for Johnson came in behind the Seattle striker and was knocked clear of the box by Ibrahim Sekagya, but right to Brad Evans, who thumped a right-footed shot just wide of the far post.
Johnson had another clean chance in the 38th minute on a ball from Lamar Neagle, but his shot from the left side was parried clear by Luis Robles. On the ensuing throw-in DeAndre Yedlin put a ball into the box for Martins, but his header missed high as Seattle continued to press for the opening goal.
Two minutes later, Johnson raced up the left side to track down an Evans pass, drawing Robles out with him. Johnson then crossed to Martins for a header that Martins put just wide of the far post.
“I thought we struggled early in the first half and then I think the last 20 minutes of the first half we did really well because we played a little more direct,” Schmid said.
In the 44th minute, Evans got in up the right side and knocked a cross toward the middle, but Markus Holgersson was whistled for a handball and Seattle was awarded a penalty. Evans converted with a powerful shot to the low right corner for the 1-0 lead in the 45th minute.
“I always feel comfortable stepping up there,” said Evans, who returned to the starting lineup for the first time since suffering a calf strain against the Columbus Crew on August 31. “I just have to keep it going and pick my spot and get it there.”
For Evans, it was his fourth goal of the season and second from the penalty spot. He is now 7-for-7 all-time for Seattle when he takes penalties.
“Brad has done well with his penalties,” Schmid said. “Robles went the right way, but the ball was well hit.”
That pressure continued for Seattle, though New York provided a bit of pushback in the other direction in the second half.
“I thought we got forward a little bit, but I thought we gave them way too much space in midfield to play,” Schmid said.
In the 61st and 63rd minutes, headers from Holgersson and Fabian Espindola found the frame – Holgersson hitting off the crossbar and Espindola off the post.
In the 76th, the Red Bulls nabbed the equalizer on a scrappy goal by Tim Cahill. The ball bounced around in the box as Seattle worked to defend the ball clear. Finally, it spilled to Cahill on the left side and he curled a shot inside the far post for his ninth goal of the season to make it 1-1.
“It was a bouncing ball all over the place in the box,” said Gspurning, who finished with two saves in the draw. “He hit it well the first time and there’s nothing (I could) do.”
A midfield battle the rest of way meant the match finished with that score, moving Seattle to 15-8-6 even with Real Salt Lake (15-10-6) atop the Western Conference standings on points, but behind on the second tie-breaker, goals scored. New York leads the East and is one point ahead in the Supporters’ Shield standings at 15-9-7.
The draw runs Seattle’s overall unbeaten streak to seven matches (5-0-2) and the Sounders remain without a loss in their last 14 matches at home (10-0-4).
Sounders FC will meet the Colorado Rapids in its next match on Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Seattle is unbeaten in its last eight matches against Colorado at 7-0-1, including a record of 1-0-1 this year.
Sounders FC – Brad Evans (PK) 45.
Red Bulls – Tim Cahill 76.
Sounders FC – None.
Red Bulls – Tim Cahill (caution) 54; Jonny Steele (caution) 64.
Sounders FC – Michael Gspurning, DeAndre Yedlin, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Djimi Traore, Marc Burch, Mauro Rosales (Adam Moffat 79), Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Lamar Neagle, Obafemi Martins, Eddie Johnson.
Red Bulls – Luis Robles, Kosuke Kimura, Markus Holgersson, Ibrahim Sekagya, David Carney, Lloyd Sam (Eric Alexander 71), Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill, Jonny Steele, Peguy Luyindula, Fabian Espindola (Andre Akpan 89).