In a matter of a week, Sounders FC earned six points in two victories over Western Conference foes fighting for playoff contention. The first was a wide-open affair in a 4-2 road win against the Portland Timbers and on Saturday Seattle had to grind out a victory, earning a 1-0 result at home against the stumbling Colorado Rapids.
In both cases, Sounders FC got the win, reassuring Head Coach Sigi Schmid that the team can win in many different ways.
“We felt we made a statement last week, but a statement doesn’t mean anything unless you back it up,” Schmid said. “This was back-up time. I thought we did a good job of backing up our statement, getting the three points, winning at home, getting a shutout. I thought all of those were positives for us.”
Clint Dempsey scored the lone goal in the match, getting a foot to a corner kick from Marco Pappa in the 52nd minute. The defense held on for a 1-0 victory to extend its lead in the Supporters’ Shield race and the Western Conference standings, improving to 15-7-3 on the season. Stefan Frei needed just two saves to earn his league-leading eighth shutout.
In the build-up to Saturday’s match, Schmid preached patience, knowing that Colorado would be playing with a defensive mindset at CenturyLink Field. Seattle showed that patience in connecting over 340 first-half passes, but could only manage one shot on goal in the first 45 minutes.
“Every game is a little bit different. It takes on a different personality. We knew they were going to be somewhat cautious in the way they played. They tried to slow the game down for sure and make it difficult for us to get forward,” Schmid said. “I thought in the second half, we spread the game more and we got in behind them more and had cleaner looks on goal.”
In the 52nd minute, that perseverance paid off as Dempsey netted his career-high and team-leading 11th goal of the season.
Brad Evans earned the corner kick on a knifing diagonal run, getting into the box before his shot was blocked by Colorado goalkeeper Joe Nasco, then cleared over the endline by Thomas Piermayr. Pappa curled the corner kick to Dempsey on a cut from the far post, driving a right-footed volley past Nasco to give Seattle the edge.
“It was a great ball in from Pappa. I just tried to make sure I had a good connection on it and tried to keep it low,” Dempsey said. “When we play at home, most teams sit back and it opens up in the second half. The most important thing is the three points and getting two wins in a row and trying to keep going from there.”
Seattle would find more chances to press from that point, with Obafemi Martins hitting a shot off the crossbar in the 58th minute and having another shot saved in the 73rd minute off a ball from Pappa.
Meanwhile on the defensive side, Seattle limited the Rapids to just two shots on goal, neither of which tested Frei too strenuously as the back four kept Colorado’s forwards at bay.
“I’m proud of the fact that we got a shutout. I’m proud of the fact that it was a victory that we had to grind out coming off of an emotional game last week. I’m happy with what the guys did,” Schmid said. “If you want to go far in the playoffs, you’ve got to be able to win games like this. You’ve got to be able to play to zero in the back. You’ve got to be able to minimize the opponents’ chances. You’ve got to make good use of your set pieces and things like that. Those are deciding factors. You’ve got to win different types of games to be successful.”
Sounders FC will take on Chivas USA on Wednesday at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.