By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE — No Clint Dempsey. No DeAndre Yedlin. No problem.
In a battle of shorthanded teams sporting the best records in MLS, the Seattle Sounders got all the scoring they needed on a controversial 42nd-minute Gonzalo Pineda penalty kick, then poured in second-half goals to top Real Salt Lake 4-0 in front of 39,245 at CenturyLink Field.
A message to the league?
“Right now we’re not about sending messages,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. “We’re in first place. We want to hold on to first place. We spoke about creating some separation. As a group we’re maturing. Being able to step into a game between a first-place team and a second-place team and win—and have a convincing result—speaks volumes for our character.”
Salazar, reffing his first Seattle match in almost 12 months, awarded the penalty after Aaron Maund nudged Lamar Neagle down in the penalty area. Replays showed the tackle may have been shoulder-to-shoulder, and that goalkeeper Jeff Attinella may have had both hands on the ball before Neagle toed it away to earn the penalty.
“I don’t feel like it was a PK,” said Real Salt Lake head coach Jeff Cassar. “Neither does Aaron. Any time you leave your feet, you leave it up to the referee to make that call. I think he was kind of going away from goal a little bit.”
“I thought it was a penalty. Definitely,” said Neagle. “We had a little scuffle at the top of the box, the ball squirted out from the goalie’s hands. I got a little touch to it, and I saw [Maund] coming and I knew he was angry, so I just stepped in front the ball and stopped and he ran right through me. It was a pretty easy call for the ref, I think.”
“[I] thought I had it,” said Attinella, “and then next thing I know I didn’t.”
Marco Pappa doubled the lead in the 55th minute, converting a beautiful free kick from more than 20 yards out. It was the Guatemalan midfielder’s first goal since returning to MLS from the Eredivisie in the offseason.
The Sounders were only halfway done.
Chad Barrett added his second goal in as many matches just seven minutes later, one-touching a short cross from Neagle past Attinella for the 3-0 lead. The shot deflected off Maund as he tried to clear his line, but the Notre Dame product couldn’t get enough leg on it.
Obafemi Martins polished off the match in the 90th minute, tapping a short cross from late substitute Kenny Cooper into an empty net.
“I was very happy for Oba’,” said Schmid. “I thought he was a little bit snakebit today.”
Osvaldo Alonso nearly added a fifth goal in stoppage time, sailing a wide-open shot over the crossbar from 12 yards out.
“It was a tight game in the first half, as it is sometimes when top teams play each other,” said Schmid. “Nobody wants to give an inch. In the second half, as guys fatigued a little bit things settled down and opened up.”
“To be honest with you,” said Cassar, “I just told the guys to discount the third and fourth goals, because we were pushing and we knew we were going to be exposed at the back.”
With the best record in the league on the line, Seattle (9-3-2, 29 points), overcame a sluggish start that saw the two teams combine for just three first-half shots. The Sounders have now won seven of their last nine matches and five straight at home.
Real Salt Lake (6-1-6, 24 points), came into the match tied with three other teams for the longest unbeaten start in league history. It’s a record they won’t break, and the team now faces two more matches in the next week while shorthanded.
Injuries and international duty robbed both lineups of key players, somewhat dulling what promised to be a marquee match. Seattle took the field missing not only Dempsey and Yedlin, and but also starting center back Djimi Traore. Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Joao Plata, and Alvaro Saborio were all absent for RSL.
For his part, Schmid said the thinned rosters didn’t diminish the importance of the win.
“It’s two teams playing soccer,” he said. “They were missing some guys, we were missing some guys. I never think about that or worry about that.”
Thanks to a three-game road trip and a three-week break for the World Cup, the Sounders won’t a play league match at home again until they host the Portland Timbers on July 13. Seattle does host fifth-tier side PSA Elite in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup on June 18, although that match will be played at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington.
Looking forward, Real Salt Lake visits the Columbus Crew (4-4-4, 16 points) on Wednesday, while the Sounders face the Chicago Fire (2-3-6, 12 points) on the road next weekend.
The teams play again on August 16 at Rio Tinto Stadium and wrap up the season series in September at CenturyLink Field.
Here are the match highlights: