Photo by Jane Gershovich/Soccer By Ives
By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE – While the Seattle Sounders raced up the standings in recent weeks, critics noted that Seattle’s wins weren’t always the prettiest, or against the toughest competition.
There was, after all, a road win over lowly Toronto FC thanks to an own goal; a home win over the Chicago Fire courtesy of, well, another own goal. Chivas USA, twice.
No such qualifications applied Friday night.
The Sounders confidently shouldered Real Salt Lake off the league’s top perch, riding goals from Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle to a 2-0 win in front of 55,107 at a buzzing CenturyLink Field.
“There were still people out there that doubted us a little bit,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid after the match. “They were saying, ‘Oh, they beat Chivas, and they’re not in the playoff hunt.’ Or, ‘They beat this team—Columbus—[that] isn’t in the playoff hunt.’ Last time I looked, everybody plays the same competition.”
Seattle shredded the visitors early with a flood of crosses, through-balls, and quick combinations, opening the scoring in just the third minute. Martins and Andy Rose paired on a crisp give-and-go, leaving Martins unmarked at the top of the keeper’s box for a volley that easily beat goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
“Whenever you give away a goal in front of 60,000 people with a very good team like that,” said Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis, “you’re going to be in for a very difficult night. For the most part, it was a very difficult night. I honestly felt we got outcompeted.”
Neagle added the insurance goal in the 38th minute after DeAndre Yedlin tracked down a Martins through-ball along the right touchline, raced unmarked into the penalty area, and found Neagle open just inside the penalty spot for a one-touch strike.
“Oba’ did a great job to find me and play me into space,” Yedlin said of the pass from Martins. “I looked up once, and I didn’t really see anybody, so I took another touch inside—luckily the [defender] was pretty far behind me. I just saw a big open gap in there, and saw three of our players. Just played it in there hoping somebody would get to it, and luckily Lamar did.”
“We had talked about [how] one of the things we could exploit was getting out wide,” said Schmid. “We had talked about [how] there would be space for our outside backs, and we had talked [about how] we could play in combination on the outside. The first goal came from breaking through on the left in combination, and the second one came with DeAndre breaking through on the right. It was exactly where we felt we could get at them a little bit, and it paid off today with two goals.”
The Sounders now own the best record in the league (15-8-4, 49 points). They have won five straight matches, tying a club record, and eight of their last nine, setting a club record.
Seattle also hasn’t lost at home since falling to the Montreal Impact in the season opener. The Sounders are unbeaten in 13 home games since (10-0-3), another club record.
Real Salt Lake (14-9-6, 48 points) clearly missed leading scorer Alvaro Saborio, out with a calf strain. RSL was shut out after scoring eight goals in its last two matches, after finding a way to score in 22 straight games across all competitions.
“We had a chance here and there,” said Kyle Beckerman, who went 90 minutes despite starting in Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifier. “We just came up short. That is what it is. Seattle is a really good team at home. They’ve done it all season. It’s nothing to put our heads down. It’s hard to come in here and get a win. We’ve been able to do it the past couple of years, but you can’t do it every time. It’s a credit to them.”
In a physical match, Real Salt Lake picked up six yellow cards compared to just one for Seattle. And based on their on-field remonstrating, both Kreis and his players clearly wanted a penalty kick after Osvaldo Alonso tackled Javier Morales in the area early in the first half.
But after the match Kreis focused on his team’s effort, not referee Allen Chapman.
“I think it’s unimportant for me to talk about the refereeing,” Kreis said. “What’s more important for me is to talk about what we could’ve done differently and what I wanted to see our players do differently to handle the situation differently.”
Real Salt Lake came into the match off a bye week, and Kreis admitted the layoff hurt his team.
“I think it played a factor,” he said. “It contributed to some sloppy performances—a little bit loose with the ball, a little bit lackadaisical in our efforts. Again, I think we got outcompeted.”
Real Salt Lake was 4-1-1 in six matches prior to the bye.
Despite the loss, Salt Lake still sits five points ahead of the Los Angeles Galaxy in the standings, although the Galaxy do have two games in hand.
But what should maybe most trouble Jason Kreis—and all of Major League Soccer—is that the Sounders built that two-goal lead with Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey cheering from the sidelines. Both U.S. Men’s National Team players rested until late, until the match was all but decided.
“It’s obviously a scary situation when you’re down two goals and he [Sigi Schmid] brings on Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey,” said Kreis.
Looking forward, both teams are back in action next Saturday. The Sounders travel to Los Angeles to face the Galaxy (13-10-4, 43 points), while RSL hosts the San Jose Earthquakes (10-11-7, 37 points).
Here are the match highlights: