By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE, Wash. – They play the games for a reason, and for 88 minutes Saturday afternoon swooning Chivas USA (7-12-7) looked like they might defy the odds and earn a draw with the Seattle Sounders (13-6-8).
But this late in the season there are also reasons why some teams are fighting for the Supporters' Shield while others watch their playoff hopes dwindle away.
For the Sounders, Eddie Johnson is one of those reasons. His 12th and 13th goals of the season were the only scoring the Sounders needed to top Chivas USA, 2-1, in front of 38,934 fans at CenturyLink Field. The dramatic victory was also Seattle's first comeback win of the season.
The win gives Seattle sole possession of second place in the Western Conference and pulls the Sounders within six points of the San Jose Earthquakes with seven matches to play. The Sounders host the Earthquakes on Sept. 22 in what could prove a critical match in the race for the top seed.
Johnson's second goal broke a 1-1 tie in the 89th minute, as the forward charged down the center of the penalty area to get his head on a beautiful deep cross from Fredy Montero.
"I knew when Fredy gets it out wide, he gets his head up," said Johnson. "We were trying to push it to the point and it was just a well-delivered ball. I like heading the ball—if it hit my foot, I'd be a little more nervous."
Seattle trailed early, but Johnson equalized in the 28th minute, soaring above defenders to head in a Christian Tiffert free kick. From that point on the Sounders controlled the run of play, finishing with nearly 61 percent of possession and outshooting the visitors 13-7.
The Sounders are now 6-1-3 in their last 10 matches, playing some of their best soccer of the season as the playoffs approach. Johnson and Montero alone have scored more goals this season (24) than the entire Chivas lineup (21).
Chivas USA got off to a fast start, though, threatening repeatedly on the counter in the early going.
Just eight minutes into the match, Shalrie Joseph and Nick LaBrocca combined to give Chivas USA a 1-0 lead. LaBrocca slipped behind Patrick Ianni in the penalty area, and Joseph found him from just outside the arc for the easy goal.
"I thought we started out very well," said Chivas head coach Robin Fraser. "We made it difficult for them to get attacking chances against us. And we obviously created some space for ourselves and scored an early goal, a good goal. It was a great start. And then slowly but surely we got less and less confident on the ball, which led to more turnovers, which led to the rest of the game."
Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid blamed at least some of the slow start on the fact the Sounders trounced Chivas 6-2 the last time the teams played.
"Sometimes when you have a win like we had down in L.A.," Schmid said, "you can pretty much stand on your head in the locker room before the game, and the edge is sometimes off a little bit."
While Chivas USA isn't yet mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, their chances are fading fast. They are now in the midst of an 0-4-2 run that has dropped them 11 points behind the fifth-place Vancouver Whitecaps with eight matches to play. Chivas would also have to leapfrog both FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids.
Asked if his team is still talking about the playoffs, Fraser said, "Until that's no longer an option it certainly has to be a goal."
There was some progress for Chivas on the afternoon, though. In recent weeks the wheels had fallen off in back, and a defense that kept Chivas competitive for much of the season despite the league's worst offense had become a liability. After allowing a mere 21 goals through its first 20 matches, Chivas gave up 18 goals in its last five games—and a stunning 13 in the last three alone.
In that sense, going on the road and holding one of the league's hottest offenses to a lone set-piece goal through 88 minutes was a step forward.
"It was certainly an improvement over what we've seen the last couple of weeks," said Fraser. "We've certainly worked at it a lot over the last number of weeks and through this week. So to come out and be solid and not give up a ton of opportunities was definitely better, and we felt better about that. But you have to be able to play on both sides, right? We defended fairly well, really hard. I have to give them credit, they fought really hard. But then on the attacking side we just weren't good enough."
Looking forward, Seattle travels to Portland next weekend, while Chivas hosts San Jose.