By JASON MITCHELL
For five seasons, the Seattle Sounders seemed short a star striker, seemed lacking the depth to overcome international duties, suspensions, and myriad injuries.
But everything seems to come up Emerald City in 2014. So far, anyway.
On the road against the Chicago Fire on Saturday night, the Sounders raced out to a 2-0 first-half lead and held on for the 3-2 win in a wild, card-filled affair in front of 16,416 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.
With the victory, the Sounders (10-3-2, 32 points) hold a seven-point lead over Real Salt Lake for the best record in the league. Seattle has also won eight of its last 10 matches since rallying to tie the Portland Timbers in the first week of April.
The Fire (2-4-8, 14 points), playing their third game in seven days, were still without injured forward Mike Magee. The Sounders were missing Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin to international duty, and lost Obafemi Martins just before the half.
With both teams down to 10 men, Lamar Neagle scored what ended up being the game-winning goal with just 12 minutes to play. The Washington native settled a Kenny Cooper header in the box before burying a right-footed shot into the far netting for the 3-1 lead. It was Neagle’s fifth goal of the season after scoring a career-high eight goals in 2013.
The goal seemed to put the match to bed, but Harrison Shipp had other ideas—as it seems he often does.
In the 82nd minute, Shipp collected a pass just outside the penalty area, took a touch to create space between Seattle’s center backs, and buried a shot past goalkeeper Stefan Frei. It was Shipp’s second goal on the night and his fifth goal of the season. An early rookie of the year favorite in his first season out of Notre Dame, Shipp also has four assists through just 13 games.
With only two minutes remaining in regulation, Fire defender Gonzalo Segares found Juan Luis Anangano in space at the penalty spot, but Frei dove to his right to preserve the lead.
Martins posted the Sounders to a 2-0 first-half lead before being ejected for picking up his second yellow card of the match just before halftime.
Martins opened the scoring in the 31st minute, stepping into a deflected cross from right back Brad Evans, turning at the corner of the 6-yard box, and rifling a shot past goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
Six minutes later Martins earned a penalty kick after referee Chris Penso yellow-carded former Sounder Jhon Kennedy Hurtado for a two-footed, studs-up tackle near the penalty spot.
It was Hurtado’s second yellow of the night, giving Seattle a brief advantage. Martins easily beat Johnson on the penalty for his eighth goal of the season.
Shipp put Chicago on the board in the 41st-minute, gathering a pass in the attacking third, weaving through a slew of Sounders, and finding the back of the net from just inside the 18-yard line.
Martins was ejected just a few moments later for an incident that occurred off-camera as the Sounders tried to restart the match after the goal.
Looking forward, neither team has a league match until July, after the World Cup break. Both sides do play U.S. Open Cup matches on June 18.
Here are the match highlights: