Brad Evans

With key players returning, the defense looked strong in shutout win over Houston

SEATTLE – It wasn’t pretty, but Sunday night’s 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo was just what Sounders FC needed.
After suffering consecutive losses for the first time this season and entering the match with a 184-minute scoreless streak, Seattle needed a shift in momentum.

“Sometimes when you’re in a little bit of a rut, you have to fight your way through to a victory,” said Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid, who collected his 200th career MLS win.  “Sometimes it’s not as artistic as you want it to be or as beautiful as you want it to be, but it’s a little bit of rolling up the sleeves and fighting.  I was proud of the way we battled.”

The great shift in momentum in the match came in the 26th minute when Stefan Frei stopped a Houston penalty, turning the would-be deficit into a jolt of energy for a Sounders side in need a boost.

The penalty came when Boniek Garcia lined up a shot inside the box on the right side and Djimi Traore slid to get the block.  After an appeal from the Dynamo, the assistant referee signaled a handball on the block and awarded the Dynamo a penalty.  However, Frei stoned Brad Davis on the penalty attempt, faking to his right, then diving to his left to make the save.

“It was huge,” Schmid said.  “I thought the PK was harsh, so I felt a little justified when he came up with the save.  But it was a big save – a huge save.”

The stop set the stage for Seattle to gain control of the match later in the second half.

Through 35 minutes, Houston held an 8-2 shots advantage.  Over the next 40 minutes, Seattle would outshoot Houston 9-2 and with it came a 2-0 lead that the Dynamo never threatened after that point.

“It kept us in the game.  At 1-0, Houston’s a good possession team and they keep the ball,” said defender Chad Marshall, who joined forces with Traore to contribute five blocked shots in the match after the duo both returned from injuries.  “It was huge for us to stay in the game and it made the difference.”

In the 69th minute, Sounders FC ended a 253-minute scoreless streak when Marco Pappa netted his third goal of the season.  Clint Dempsey held the ball at the edge of the box on the left side and played it back to Pappa.  The Guatemalan midfielder took a touch to the middle, then swiveled around his defender to take a left-footed shot that deflected off David Horst and past Tally Hall for the goal and a 1-0 lead.

Seattle would add to that edge in the 75th minute when Gonzalo Pineda converted his third penalty kick of the season.  On a free kick from the left side, Obafemi Martins was held in the box by Ricardo Clark to draw the penalty, and Pineda coolly put the shot away for the 2-0 lead.

“It was a very important game for us.  We lost two in a row so we needed to get back where we were supposed to be.  Today we’ve done the job even though it was a very tough game,” Traore said.  “We came out tonight with a big target to keep the clean sheet.  It was good for the defense and it’s a big credit to Stefan.”

The shutout moved Frei into a share of the league-lead with seven clean sheets, joining Colorado’s Clint Irwin and Kansas City’s Eric Kronberg atop the list.

The victory also vaulted Seattle back into the top spot in the Supporters’ Shield standings after falling to second for the first time since April 19.

To Frei, the latter is the more important leaderboard, regardless of how Seattle got there.

“Overall I don’t think it was our prettiest of games but we fought hard, we brought that energy and toughness; sometimes you’re going to be in those games and you have to be able to match and surpass the intensity of the opponent,” he said.  “Have the power and willingness to sacrifice your body and just work hard, we were able to find the net twice luckily and get the shutout on top of that.”