Photo by Jane Gershovich | JaneG. Photography
By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE – No Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, or Brad Evans.
No problem. Not when Lamar Neagle is waiting in the wings.
Neagle scored his career-high sixth goal of the season midway through the first half on Wednesday, lifting the shorthanded Seattle Sounders over Chivas USA 1-0 in front of 38,317 at CenturyLink Field.
Neagle, 26, has recorded those six goals—and three assists, to boot—in just 11 starts at forward this season. The Federal Way, Wash., native has started six times in the midfield without logging a goal or assist.
Seattle (13-8-4, 43 points) has now won six of its last seven matches and is undefeated in its last 11 home games (8-0-3), both club records. The victory also moves the Sounders into a tie with the Los Angeles Galaxy for second place in the Western Conference and cements a three-game season sweep of Chivas USA.
On Wednesday, the Sounders jumped on Chivas early and never looked back.
Seattle had already threatened repeatedly by the time Marc Burch bent a free kick from the right touchline into the penalty area in the 24th minute. Neagle worked himself behind the defense and deftly swept a flying shot past goalkeeper Dan Kennedy for a lead the Sounders never relinquished.
“I got free,” Neagle said. “The ball dropped right in my lap—literally right in my lap. It dropped right over somebody’s head and it was kind of unexpected. I took a bad touch but ended up being able to get my foot up high enough to get it down.”
“The goal we gave up,” said Kennedy, “I think we can do better by not fouling and we can do better marking on our set pieces.”
Chivas only managed to threaten on a handful of late set pieces.
In the 70th minute, substitute Matthew Fondy sent a header off a corner kick just past the far post. Five minutes later Bobby Burling elevated above the defense to get his head on another corner, but Michael Gspurning easily smothered what would end up being Chivas USA’s lone shot on goal. In the 80th minute defender Mario de Luna redirected a free kick just wide of the left post.
That was it.
For last-place Chivas (5-15-7, 22 points), the loss ends a relatively bright two-game stint that saw it top the New York Red Bulls 3-2 and draw the Whitecaps 2-2 in Vancouver, B.C.
“It’s kind of a testament to the season we’ve had,” said Burling. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs. Definitely nothing has come easy for us.”
Erick Torres—the 20-year-old lighting up the league with six goals in just seven starts and riding back-to-back braces coming into the match—never threatened on Wednesday. Nor did 19-year-old Julio Morales, Torres’ promising young partner up top.
The loss also leaves Chivas winless in six trips to Seattle since the Sounders joined MLS.
With Martins and Evans injured, Johnson and Dempsey on international duty, and Leo Gonzalez suspended, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid turned to a patchwork lineup.
Seattle started David Estrada for the first time since May, Servando Carrasco for the first time since early July, and Zach Scott at left back for the first time all season.
The bench was no different, with Philip Lund in the 18 for just the third time this season, Alex Caskey in the 18 for the first time since June, Andy Rose in the 18 for the first time in a month, and Blair Gavin on the bench for the first time since Seattle signed him on Aug. 21.
Yet the Sounders controlled the first half from from the start, bombarding Chivas with early crosses and through balls and earning three corner kicks in the first 10 minutes alone. Neagle nearly opened the scoring in just the third minute, rifling a shot over the crossbar from just beyond the arc.
“I thought [we] did a good job in the first half,” Schmid said. “I thought we got behind Chivas a number of times and got into good crossing situations, balls being cut back and so forth.”
Chivas improved in the second half, generating more shots and set pieces, but could only manage that one attempt on frame.
The visitors from Los Angeles certainly seemed much improved from the team that endured a 1-13-5 streak earlier in the season.
“I think if the season were to start today, I don’t think Chivas would be in last place,” Schmid said. “I think [Jose Luis Real] has done a good job with them, I think he has organized them well. He’s put guys into positions, he’s got combinations he feels good about. And I think they are a much-improved team.”
Kennedy, leading the league with 91 saves, agreed.
“I think since Coach Real has been here we’ve made substantial progress and it’s been consistent,” Kennedy said. “It took a while for our results to show that progress and in the last five weeks you have seen a couple of wins and a draw [against Vancouver] that could very easily have been a win, so we’re settling into the system and guys are playing with a little more confidence.”
Looking forward, the Sounders host the Chicago Fire (10-10-5, 35 points) on Saturday, while Chivas hosts D.C. United (3-18-5, 14 points) on Sunday.
Here are the match highlights: