PORTLAND, Ore. — There surely has never been a week quite like the one we just experienced. On Wednesday, we were all gutted by giving up a last-play equalizer, dropping two much-needed points at home to Orlando City. A few days later, it was our turn to do virtually the same thing to the Portland Timbers, grabbing an even more improbable equalizer in the 94th minute.
Assuming my math is correct, three points remains better than two, which means the two games didn’t quite even out.
Emotionally, however, maybe this is exactly what the Sounders needed. Securing a spot in the postseason is always about stringing together results rather than looking at what happened in any one game, and if momentum really exists, then the Sounders are better off than if they’d beaten Orlando and lost to the Timbers.
It wasn’t just the single point in the standings, either. The Sounders ended a streak of nine games in which they’d failed to score more than a single goal and Clint Dempsey got back onto the scoresheet for the first time since May 13. It also came in a game during which they played down a man for more than a half. More than the result, the Sounders simply need to get their best players performing at a high level. If they can do that, the results will take care of themselves. Let’s hope this was the first step.
Deuce inside yo head
Dempsey did his best to downplay the importance of scoring against the Timbers, but his actions tell a very different story. The man who everyone (even coaches,) refers to as “Deuce” has now played nine career regular-season games against the Timbers. He’s got nine goals. Best I can tell, there’s no team in the world he’s scored more against, either at the club or international level. He hasn’t scored more than three against any other team since joining the Sounders, and the most goals he has against an international opponent is the seven he’s slotted against Honduras.
More importantly, the Sounders are 6-1-2 in those nine career games. That stands in stark contrast to the Sounders’ 1-3-0 record against the Timbers in the four games they’ve played without Dempsey since he signed.
Of those nine goals, six either gave the Sounders the lead, tied the score or proved to be the game-winner. Five of his goals have come at Providence Park, the most of any opposing MLS player, and one shy of Roger Levesque’s Sounders record for most all-time. Dempsey is also one shy of Levesque’s all-time record for goals against the Timbers.
There just seems to be something about playing the Timbers, and specifically playing them on the road, that brings out the best in Dempsey.
Just look at that goal celebration, how he runs over to the Timbers Army with his arms stretched wide, practically asking them “whatchya gonna do?” Maybe he blocked out the boos when he was introduced in pregame and again when he entered the field, but there’s now way he didn’t hear them chanting “Fuck You, Dempsey” just a few minutes before he scored.
The “me against the world” form of self motivation may seem trite, but some players do seem to genuinely thrive when they’re playing with a chip on their shoulder. Dempsey is one of those players. Hopefully he hears those among us who are wondering if he’s lost a step and are openly questioning if he’s worth bringing back.
Either way, the version we saw of him on Sunday — the one that takes on multiple defenders when he doesn’t need to but also the one who is willing to test a goalkeeper with a midfield chip — is the one the Sounders need for the rest of the season.
“Double-jeopardy” isn’t just an Ashley Judd movie
One of the big changes to FIFA’s rules in 2016 had to do with so-called “double-jeopardy” situations where teams were punished with both a penalty and a red card. Under the new wording, it was no longer required to do both for simple denial of a goal-scoring opportunity as the penalty was effectively deemed to be sufficient for many infractions. Essentially, the exception would remain on handballs, when no attempt was made on the ball, holding, and otherwise red-card worthy offenses.
Which brings us to what looked like it would be the pivotal moment in Sunday’s game, when Brad Evans wasn’t just called for a penalty but also shown a red card for his desperate tackle on Darlington Nagbe. Here’s the play:
In his postgame comments, Ricardo Salazar basically said the penalty was for the denial of a goal-scoring opportunity and the red was for not making an attempt on the ball. While I think Salazar’s decision is reasonably easy to defend, I do think there’s room for disagreement.
There’s no question this is a foul and worthy of a penalty, the issue is how you feel about Evans’ left leg. His first swipe is pretty clearly on the ball, even if he misses it. That’s what brings out the whistle for the penalty. I see his momentum basically carrying his left leg around, not so much a purposeful attempt to trip Nagbe. At full speed, and even on replay, I could understand why others would see it different.
However, I’d like to see referees use a bit more discretion there. I don’t see Evans being cynical with that trailing leg, and given the speed, don’t see it as particularly dangerous. Just awarding the penalty would have been perfectly defensible if Salazar had chosen to do so.
At the end of the day, though, there’s virtually no chance of the call being reversed and I’m not even convinced VAR would have changed the outcome. It’s a tough break for Evans, who was having himself a nice game up until then, and will now likely have to wait until after July 4 to suit up again.
Live by the ‘fro die by the ‘fro
Of course, Evans wouldn’t have been in that position if it weren’t for Roman Torres slipping and failing to clear what looked like a pretty harmless ball into the box. That left Evans scrambling and with no good choices to make, even if he would have ultimately been better off letting Nagbe walk the ball into the net.
Torres also slipped a couple other times, none nearly as costly, but scary moments nonetheless.
Then he did something virtually no center back in the league is even going to try to do. As the game headed down to its final minutes, Torres didn’t just join the attack but found himself in space on the wing. Without missing a beat, he picked his spot and delivered a perfect cross to the head of Dempsey that was basically the soccer equivalent of an alley-oop.
Right now, this seems to be what you get with Torres. Some good, some bad, some embarrassing, some spectacular. Most of us would probably rather have reliable consistency, but at least he found some equilibrium in this game.