SEATTLE – Sounders FC entered a three-match home stand wanting to establish CenturyLink Field as a fortress. Three matches later, Seattle has climbed to the top of the MLS standings with a five-point cushion after a 2-1 win over FC Dallas completed the home sweep Wednesday night.
"We couldn't have done any better. We got maximum points from those games and now we move forward," Sounders FC forward Clint Dempsey said.
The script on Wednesday was similar to one Seattle has followed frequently in recent matches, falling behind early only to see a flurry of late goals give Sounders FC the result. And for the sixth time this season, a goal in the final 10 minutes of the match has clinched a result for Seattle. This time it was Kenny Cooper who netted the game-winner—an 88th minute strike to seal the deal against his former team—just two minutes after coming into the match for Seattle's other goal-scorer, Lamar Neagle.
"We always believe we are going to win," Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. "I think our team played some very good soccer. They never lost hope and faith, and continued to show good character and battled well."
Seattle fell behind in the first half when Danny Garcia sent a cross into the box for Blas Perez, who was tripped up and Dallas was awarded the penalty kick. Michel slotted the PK to away for a goal and Dallas took the 1-0 lead in the 16th minute.
But like they had in three of the previous four matches, Seattle stormed back from the early deficit even while Dallas bunkered in to protect the lead.
A 7-4 first-half shot advantage ended with Seattle outshooting Dallas 19-7, forcing Raul Fernandez into seven saves on the night. However, Sounders FC was not to be denied and battled back with two goals in the final half-hour to earn the victory.
In the first half, Seattle used a tactic that had produced success throughout the season in pressing through the middle of the field. With Dallas clogging the middle of the field, Seattle was forced into pushing the ball out wide and the team made the proper adjustments to garner that success.
In the 62nd minute, Seattle finally found the equalizer when Obafemi Martins crossed to Neagle on a near post run, and the Federal Way native hit it first-time past Fernandez for his fourth goal of the season. Martins took a pass on the right side from Dempsey, then sized up his cross with Neagle darting toward the near post and Dempsey cutting toward the middle of the box. Martins picked out Neagle with his pass and he knocked in a volley for the equalizer.
"You always want to score goals and bounce back," said Neagle, who was celebrating his 27th birthday on Wednesday. "Getting one today, especially at a time when we really needed it, that's a good feeling."
In the 88th minute, Seattle continued its hot streak when Martins spotted Cooper in the box on a cross from the left side, cutting beyond his defender and finding Cooper in behind the Dallas defense for a first-time goal of his own to give Seattle the 2-1 victory, rewarding the 38,489 fans in attendance at CenturyLink Field.
"You feel the passion of the fans. It's such a privilege to play in front of them," Cooper said. "You feel that energy that they have and we're so fortunate to have them behind us. They really spur us on."
Seattle is now unbeaten in its last six matches and has scored two or more goals in eight out of 10 matches thus far this season. After winning three straight at home, Sounders FC is now 4-2-0 at CenturyLink Field after consecutive losses to Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew in March.
"We had the three games and that's what we wanted to do – get back over .500 and then extend our lead in the Western Conference," Seattle captain Brad Evans said. "Now we've got a tough one on Sunday against a very good, young, athletic team in New England. We look to be road warriors like we always have."
Seattle is unbeaten at 3-0-1 on the road and earned its most convincing road victory in its only Eastern Conference road match, a 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact on March 23.
While the five-match winning streak matches a club record, Seattle isn't done yet and aims to set a new club record on Sunday in a road match against the New England Revolution.
"We're not satisfied. We keep pushing and that's the only way we're going to get better," Dempsey said. "That's the standard we have to set in order to accomplish what we want to this year. We want to win MLS Cup and if we keep playing the way that we're doing and keep showing the character that we have, we'll be fine."