By AVI CREDITOR
WASHINGTON – There's something about late-game situations at RFK Stadium that brings the best out of Roger Levesque.
Levesque, who scored the cup-clinching goal for the Seattle Sounders against D.C. United late in last year's U.S. Open Cup final, headed home a Fredy Montero cross in the 89th minute, as the Sounders improved to 3-0 all-time at D.C. with a 1-0 victory Thursday night.
Seattle's newest Designated Player, Blaise N'Kufo, didn't play after only training with the Sounders once in his short time with the team. He will take the starting forward position aside Montero once deemed ready, but as it turned out, the Sounders (5-8-4) didn't need N'Kufo in order to take the three road points Thursday.
They just needed more late heroics from Levesque and a mammoth performance in goal by a hobbled Kasey Keller.
"The three points is everything," Keller said. "We've needed something to go our way. We've played well enough to win games, and we've given up late goals for draws. Our attitude's been changing the last three-four games, and we're definitely moving in the right direction."
Keller was injured in the 65th minute when he came out of the box to try and beat Andy Najar to a long ball down the right side. Both players slid for the ball, and Najar appeared to catch Keller's ankle in the process.
Play continued, with Santino Quaranta's chip toward a seemingly open net headed off the line and out of play by Patrick Ianni while Keller stayed on the ground some 20 yards from goal.
He remained in the game and was immediately tested on the ensuing corner kick, as new D.C. acquisition Pablo Hernandez got two looks from close range, both of which were stopped by the 40-year-old keeper.
Keller was also able to get his fingertips on a goal-bound, Quaranta blast from distance in the 76th minute, and he prevented an own-goal with a diving stop off a twice-deflected cross 10 minutes later.
"Kasey made some great saves playing on a bum ankle," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said.
Keller suffered a right mid-foot sprain according to Sounders officials, but he toughed it out to save Seattle its final substitution.
That substitute, Sanna Nyassi, came on in the 88th minute and spearheaded the scoring play with a steal deep in D.C. territory.
"Sanna was instrumental in the goal, and if I had come off, he wouldn't have been able to come on," said Keller, who had a bag of ice wrapped around his right foot after the match. "I didn't want to waste a sub on a goalkeeper, so I'm just glad I was able to get through that."
Nyassi stole the ball from Jordan Graye and eventually touched it to the right for Montero, whose cross to the far post from near the end line found a diving Levesque for a pinpoint header.
"It just got over their defender, and all I was trying to do was put it on frame," Levesque said.
The defender, Dejan Jakovic, combined with Julius James to take the sting out of the Sounders' attack for the bulk of the evening. Both players had come up with multiple tackles and steals to hold off continued threats from Montero and Steve Zakuani, but the final sequence rendered all that moot.
"It was a bad giveaway and then the ball goes down the line and somehow just gets a loop over, and at the last second I didn't even see where the forward was," Jakovic said. "He just kind of beat me to it. It's very frustrating. We've got to keep our heads up and move on."
D.C. (3-10-3) was able to integrate its two newest players into the match, with Hernandez entering as a 56th-minute replacement for Jaime Moreno and Designated Player Branko Boskovic coming on for Stephen King at central midfield in the 72nd.
Boskovic didn't have a ton of time to make his mark, though his touch was clean and confident. His first pass set up Chris Pontius in an attacking position down the center of the field.
"I need to keep playing, and I hope the next game I am physically much better," Boskovic said. "I've come here to win."
There's hardly any time for D.C. to soak in the loss, the latest in a string of tough 2010 defeats, as the MLS-best Los Angeles Galaxy come to town on Sunday.
"We gave away a terrible ball to give away in our part of the field and we got punished," D.C. coach Curt Onalfo said. "We've got to lick our wounds and keep progressing."
Here are highlights from Thursday night's match:
Though N'Kufo was only able to watch his new team from the sideline in his first match as a Sounder, he was impressed with what he saw.
"My first impression was good. I saw tonight a good team that believed that they could win the game until the end," N'Kufo said. "We showed good spirit and character.
"It was a possibility that I would come on, but I just trained for the first time yesterday after 15 days off.
"To join my new team, I was expecting this for a while, and I'm happy to be here. I'm looking forward to playing my first game. As I can see, the players are good, they wished me a good welcome and I'm really excited to play."
Said Schmid: "I want him to see the game up close and not throw him in there yet. For him to be around the team these last few days has been good."
As for being a part of the only team to beat the World Cup champions this summer, N'Kufo said, "It's a part of history that we were the team to beat Spain. Spain was the best team in this World Cup and the last two years they were the best team, too."
What are your thoughts about the match? Disappointed that N'Kufo didn't play? Think this victory will springboard Seattle to a winning streak? Do you see D.C. bouncing back to defeat the Galaxy on Sunday?
Share your thoughts below.