By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE, Wash. – The Seattle Sounders topped the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 Saturday afternoon, gaining vital space in the standings and an emotional win over one of its fiercest rivals.
The win in front of 55,718 fans at CenturyLink Field leaves Seattle (11-6-7) alone in third-place in the Western Conference, breaking a three-way tie with the Whitecaps (10-9-7) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (11-11-4).
And if Fredy Montero wants to remain a starter, he might want to stop scoring as a sub.
Montero delivered the only goal Seattle would need in the 64th minute, less than five minutes after subbing in for rookie Alex Caskey. Jeff Parke redirected a Mauro Rosales free kick toward goal and Montero, lurking nearby, cleanly slotted home the score for a 1-0 lead.
Montero has now scored five of his eight goals this season as a substitute, but Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid said the Colombian forward has nothing to worry about.
While Schmid has benched Montero for poor effort in the past, Saturday's benching wasn't a disciplining. The forward was excused from Friday's practice to attend to a family matter.
"It wasn't a punishment or anything," said Schmid. "He just missed a practice and we wanted to make sure that his mind was clear going into the game, which it was. We're not going to turn him into a super-sub or 12th man of the year or something like that."
Eddie Johnson sealed the victory with his 11th goal of the season in the 87th minute, stepping in from the far post to neatly stab in a simple rolling cross from Brad Evans.
Johnson had multiple scoring chances earlier in the match, including a point-blank volley he sent wide in the 53rd minute.
"I had a few opportunities that I didn't put away," said Johnson, "and for me it's about my psychological approach to the game. If I miss one, it's always the next one."
It was no coincidence Johnson's goal came on a cross from the right side.
"We felt that we could really find some joy on the right-hand side," said Schmid, "we felt that [Alain] Rochat was really tucking in an awful lot."
Vancouver nearly equalized in the 82nd minute, but referee Silviu Petrescu waved off Darren Mattocks' apparent goal, ruling Mattocks fouled Parke to secure possession.
Both teams entered the match coming off disappointments. Vancouver lost 2-0 to FC Dallas in a midweek tilt that ended a nine-match unbeaten streak at BC Place dating back to mid-April. The Sounders, meanwhile, lost both the US Open Cup final and a critical match at San Jose in heartbreaking fashion after a 4-0 trouncing of the Galaxy seemed to announce their return to prominence.
But Seattle came into the day as rested and healthy as they've been all season, while Vancouver dealt with suspensions and injuries following their midweek match.
Defender Jay DeMerit sat once again with a concussion. Defender Martin Bonjour sat with yellow-card accumulation. Midfielder and designated player Barry Robson sat with a suspension for dissent earned in Wednesday's loss.
Given the roster turmoil, Vancouver coach Martin Rennie was his usual upbeat self despite getting knocked back in the standings.
"The exciting thing for us," said Rennie, "is that with players like Jay DeMerit and Barry Robson, players like that coming back into the lineup, others hopefully getting a chance to be fresh for next week, I feel like our team's really coming together well. Today was a disappointment, but we've bounced back from that before."
Noting that his team didn't find out until Friday night that Robson was suspended, Rennie added, "Given all of that, I thought we were a little unfortunate not to get something out of the game. Because I thought we had chances, or at least a couple half chances, in the first half. We needed to take one of those. And in the second half there were definitely places where we could have defended better. But the overall performance of the team was good, and I think created a very good game today."
As is often the case in big matches, the early moments were chippy and filled with more energy than quality. An evenly played but ragged first half saw both sides create or luck into numerous half-chances that never translated into anything seriously threatening. The teams combined for a total of five shots in the half, and only two on frame.
Seattle began to control play in the opening minutes of the second half, with Osvaldo Alonso and Johnson both getting good looks before a certain super-sub-for-a-day entered the match and a sent a packed house into delirium.