SEATTLE– On paper, it seemed like this marquee matchup had lost some of its luster, as stars on both sides sat with injuries, or began the game on the bench after playing for their national teams during the week.
But the players that took the field for the Seattle Sounders and Atlanta United delivered a fully entertaining — if scoreless — match in front of 40,182 at CenturyLink Field on Friday night.
Clint Dempsey nearly opened the scoring in the 58th minute moments after checking into the match, tracking down a beautiful Nicolas Lodeiro free kick and rising to send a header off the crossbar. Barely a minute later Lodeiro nearly scored an olimpico, surprising goalkeeper Alec Kann with a corner kick that nearly bent around the near post.
After a wide open start to the match, the Sounders controlled the second half, especially after Dempsey checked in just before the hour mark. The visitors managed just four shots over the final 45 minutes, only once putting a ball on frame in the second half before missing out on golden chance to win the match in stoppage time.
Late substitute Kenwyne Jones looked sure to score from just outside the penalty spot in the 92nd minute, but midfielder Cristian Roldan slid to deflect the shot. Designated Player Miguel Almiron, a second-half substitute as well, got a clean look on the counter in the 88th minute, but scooted a ball directly to goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
It looked like the Sounders might run away with the match in the first 15 minutes. Roldan had the clearest of multiple early chances for the Sounders, but was unable to control a short, skipping cross from Jordan Morris, chesting the ball over the end line from just a yard or two in front of goal.
The visitors quickly settled down, however, as head coach Tata Martino at least partially shortened the leash on fullbacks Tyrone Mears and Greg Garza.
If anything, the visitors looked more likely to stake themselves an early lead, outshooting the Seattle 7-4 in the first half. Hector Villalba nearly squirted a shot beneath Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei at the top of the penalty area in the 9th minute, while Julian Gressel forced Frei into a nice save two minutes later. Sounders center back Gustav Svensson twice made last sliding tackles to break up threatening counter attacks.
The Sounders fielded a makeshift defense for the second straight match. With starting right back Brad Evans and his usual replacement Oniel Fisher both nursing injury, Martinique international Jordy Delem made his MLS debut. Delem, 24, signed a first-team contract at the beginning of March after making 19 appearances at center back with the Sounders’ USL side in 2016. Both of Seattle’s starting center backs missed the game, as well. Roman Torres, while in the 18, rested after starting for the Panamanian national team on Tuesday, while Chad Marshall was a late scratch with an illness. Second-year defender Tony Alfaro and Gustav Svensson started in their stead.
An Atlanta United attack that had exploded out of the gate for 11 goals over the club’s first three matches was shorthanded as well. Designated Player Josef Martinez, leading the league with five goals through three matches, picked up an injury with the Venezuelan national team last week and is expected to miss at least a month. And Almiron only played the final 30 minutes, failing to make much of an impact. Almiron, who has already recorded two goals and two assists in the young season, started on the bench after appearing for the Paraguay national team midweek.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Cristian Roldan. The third-year central midfielder just gets better and better, and barely put a foot wrong as he left his fingerprints all over yet another the match.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Roldan’s sliding effort to deny Jones in extra time was the play of the night, preserving a point for the hosts.
MATCH TO FORGET
Osvaldo Alonso. On a night when no player on either team put in truly forgettable performance, Alonso gets the nod for not quite living up to his lofty standards. Two first-half turnovers in his own half of the field could have easily led to Atlanta goals.