Photo by Jane Gershovich/JaneG. Photography
By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE – For a while there, the Seattle Sounders looked to be in for an ugly Saturday afternoon. Coming off back-to-back road losses, trotting out a makeshift back line, and playing their fifth game in 16 days, the Sounders twice found themselves trailing hapless Chivas USA.
But near disaster turned to almost casual dominance as the Sounders rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 first-half deficits, coasting to a 4-2 victory in front of 38,713 at CenturyLink Field.
It should surprise no one who has watched the Sounders this year that Obafemi Martins anchored the win. Scoring his 14th and 15th goals of the year, Martins set the Sounders’ single-season scoring record and also picked up a team-leading 11th assist on Clint Dempsey’s game-winning goal.
With the win, the Sounders (18-9-3, 57 points) at least temporarily regained sole possession of first place in both the Western Conference and the Supporters’ Shield race. The LA Galaxy, now trailing the Sounders by three points, host the New York Red Bulls on Sunday afternoon.
“There’s nobody more disappointed than the group (in the locker room) after the games in New York and Dallas,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said about the team’s two road losses last week. “But we are in first place and people are still chasing us. They have to get three points to get even with us, and we are going to continue to put that pressure on for the rest of the season.”
Chivas USA, an anodyne for any troubled team in the league this season, was anything but in the first half, jumping out to a 1-0 lead on an Erick “Cubo” Torres put-back that set a record as well.
Torres opened the scoring in just the 12th minute, collecting a deflected Oswaldo Minda shot and finishing into an empty net for his 15th goal of the season. Minda first tracked down an Akira Kaji cross and spun past Jalil Anibaba to force goalkeeper Stefan Frei into a diving save.
With the goal, Torres broke Chivas USA’s single-season scoring record. Ante Razov had held the record since 2006.
“It’s a very motivating stat,” said Torres. “Having the opportunity to make that (record) in the club and in the history of the franchise is something that fills me with joy.”
Martins responded with his first goal of the day moments later, gathering a pass in midfield and deftly sliding past Minda before rifling a 23-yard, left-footed shot into the far netting for his 14th goal of the season.
Chivas regained the lead with a little help from Anibaba, who picked up an 18th-minute own goal when he deflected a Torres pass intended for Felix Borja into his own net. Midfielder Leandro Barrera began the sequence, ripping a beautiful long-range shot off the crossbar that then ricocheted to Torres.
The Sounders have now ceded multiple goals in five straight matches, although on Saturday they were missing starting defenders Zach Scott and Leo Gonzalez to injury. Jalil Anibaba and Brad Evans started in their absence.
Normally raucous CenturyLink Field was temporarily left in stunned silence when the Sounders went down 2-1, but the rest of the afternoon went downhill for Chivas.
Lamar Neagle equalized in the 37th minute, collecting a deflected ball behind the Chivas back line and scooting a right-footed shot past goalkeeper Dan Kennedy for the 2-2 tie and his eighth goal of the year.
The Sounders are now 16-7 when Neagle starts this season.
Clint Dempsey put the Sounders up for good in first-half stoppage time, working a smart give-and-go with Martins to give the Sounders the 3-2 lead at the break.
Dempsey first fed Martins a back heel at the top of the box, then slipped unmarked into the penalty area, gathering the return pass from Martins and easily beating Kennedy for his 13th goal of the season.
Chivas USA (6-18-6, 24 points) has now lost 11 of its last 12 matches, hasn’t won since July 12, and has been outscored 21-4 in its last six games.
“It is important that the players understand that the only way for us to get out of this slump is getting on the field and (playing with) intensity,” said Chivas USA head coach Wilmer Cabrera. “We cannot just go over there and give up right away because we receive one goal.”
Martins added his record-setting insurance goal just five minutes after halftime, finding space in the penalty area amid a gaggle of Chivas bodies and deflecting a shot off defender Donny Toia for the 4-2 lead. With the goal, Martins passed Eddie Johnson for the single-season franchise scoring record. Johnson scored 14 goals for the Sounders in 2012.
“I thought Oba’ played very well today,” Schmid said about Martins. “I thought he worked hard and it’s great. I also think it’s the most goals he has had in a season, so we are very proud of him.”
The Sounders dominated the rest of the second half, forcing Kennedy into multiple saves and sending multiple shots off the posts.
Looking forward, both teams are back in action next weekend. Chivas USA hosts Real Salt Lake (13-6-10, 49 points), while the Sounders visit the Colorado Rapids (8-14-7, 31 points).
Here are the match highlights: