Photo by Jane Gersovich/Soccer By Ives
By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE – The match wasn’t much prettier than the weather, but even without Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave the New York Red Bulls escaped Seattle with a vital 1-1 draw on Sunday night.
The point from the tie allowed the Red Bulls (15-9-7, 52 points) to reclaim sole possession of the league’s best record with just three games left on their schedule.
“I’m extremely proud of my guys,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke. “Not only to get a result here, but to play very good [soccer] and to put pressure all over a phenomenal team like Seattle.”
The Sounders (15-8-6, 51 points) and Real Salt Lake (15-10-6, 51 points) trail New York by just a point. Seattle has two games in hand on both the Red Bulls and RSL.
With his teaming trailing 1-0 in the 76th minute amid heavy rain and strong winds, Tim Cahill stepped into a loose ball in the penalty area and buried a one-touch equalizer past goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.
It was Cahill’s ninth goal of the year, and just the fifth goal the Sounders have allowed in the last 30 minutes all season.
“My whole career,” said Cahill, “I’ve looked to try to make the difference in front of big crowds and the best teams in the leagues—everywhere I’ve played—and tonight that was it. It was pretty special, but not for me, for my team. Because we had a lot of players step in due to other circumstances and this is what it means to be a team.”
An 86th-minute free kick from the edge of the arc ended up being Seattle’s best chance to regain the lead, but late substitute Adam Moffat drove it harmlessly into the Red Bulls’ wall.
Brad Evans opened the scoring in the 45th minute after referee Kevin Stott whistled defender Markus Holgersson for a handball in the penalty area. Evans drove the ensuing penalty kick into the bottom-right corner of the net, beating goalkeeper Luis Robles for the 1-0 lead in front of 39,083 at CenturyLink Field.
Evans is now 7-for-7 on penalty kicks in his career—all since joining the Sounders before their inaugural season in 2009. But the 28-year-old midfielder was in no kind of self-congratulatory mood after the match.
“I didn’t think I had a good game by any means, maybe minus the goal,” Evans said. “From a personal standpoint, got to do better. Whatever it is I need to do to start connecting my passes a little bit better in the midfield and finding the forwards, I gotta do that.”
The match started slowly, but the Sounders—missing Clint Dempsey to a hamstring injury—built momentum throughout the first half and came close to opening the scoring on multiple occasions.
In the 38th minute, Eddie Johnson unleashed a shot from just 10 yards out, but Robles came up with a diving save to keep the match scoreless. In the 41st minute, Johnson found Obafemi Martins on a cross with Robles well out of position, but the Nigerian’s header sailed wide right.
Those were just two of several missed chances the Sounders would end up regretting.
New York outplayed Seattle in a sloppy second half, nearly equalizing twice before Cahill evened the score in his second game back from a knee injury.
In the 61st minute a Holgersson header off a free kick ricocheted off the frame’s left elbow. Barely a minute later Fabian Espindola—starting for the injured Bradley Wright-Phillips—sent a header off the right post.
“I know we can play better than we played tonight,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. “We still came out with a tie, so that’s something. We got a point. We still have some games in hand. But obviously when we play at home we’d like to win.”
For the Red Bulls, the result was perhaps especially gratifying after taking some criticism during the week for leaving Henry and Olave in New York out of concern the CenturyLink FieldTurf might aggravate nagging injuries.
“I think a lot of emphasis [was] put on who we didn’t have [rather] than on who we did have play tonight,” said Petke, “and I thought that was a discredit to a lot of the guys. We knew [Henry and Olave] weren’t going to travel early in the week so it was out of our mind. That was the focus for these guys. I have faith in these guys and they have faith in each other to come in and get a result, and they did that.”
Both teams are back in action Saturday. The Sounders travel to Colorado to play the Rapids (12-9-9, 45 points), while New York hosts the New England Revolution (11-11-8, 41 points).
Here are the match highlights: