SEATTLE, Wash. — If Clint Dempsey keeps scoring like this and the defense keeps pitching shutouts, the Seattle Sounders are going to be pretty darn hard to beat.
Dempsey scored his team-leading 10th goal of the season and the Sounders posted their fourth straight shutout — running their streak to 400 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal — and at least temporarily moved to the top of the Western Conference standings courtesy of their 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
Fresh off a productive final week of the summer transfer window, the Sounders hosted Sporting KC in an MLS match that could have a major effect in the Western Conference standings. Seattle started the match with only two player absences: Osvaldo Alonso, who started on the bench after being out for over a month, and Brad Evans, who has been experiencing lower back pain this week. New signings Lamar Neagle and Victor Rodriguez both started on the bench. Sporting KC also fielded a very mixed lineup after going 120 minutes plus penalties in their Open Cup match on Wednesday. KC’s fatigue seemed to show especially in the final 15 minutes of the match as the Sounders killed off the game.
Both sides started slow on the sunny (but not too hot!) afternoon, but the Sounders came closest to striking first after just 7 minutes. A brilliant interchange between Seattle’s front four saw them waltz into KC’s box, but Jordan Morris’ low cross was knocked out for a corner kick. Nicolas Lodeiro’s set piece found the head of Chad Marshall but the shot flew just wide. More great work by the Sounders attack had Lodeiro put in a great ball for Clint Dempsey, whose shot went straight to goalkeeper Tim Melia.
The away side picked up a handful of corners after this, and they were sure to milk as much time out of each while the score was still 0-0. The second corner was nearly productive, but the Sounders were lucky that it sailed across the face of goal and out of bounds for a goal kick.
Seattle battled hard in the final third, creating many excellent chances that lacked the right final ball. Joevin Jones flew into the box after a great 1-2 with Will Bruin, cut his pass back and across the box, where Cristian Roldan took a shot from about 15 yards out that flew just wide. There was a particularly dangerous moment just before the 30 minute mark when KC’s James Musa supposedly attempted a bicycle kick from a prone position, kicked Roman Torres in the groin (nowhere near the ball) and only received a yellow card for the foul.
Seattle continued to have the majority of chances, but nothing was really dangerous until the 36th minute, when Dempsey blasted a header from a Jordan Morris cross into the back of the net to take the lead. It was Morris’ first assist since Oct. 23, 2016 and Dempsey’s sixth goal in four games, putting him just three short of Fredy Montero’s franchise record for regular-season tallies.
The rest of the first half was fairly even as KC had to abandon their physical, time-wasting game in an effort to try and even the score before halftime. They failed to do that before the halftime whistle, and the only action for either side in the final minutes was a curious yellow card to Lodeiro.
Neither team made any changes for the second half, but Sporting KC came out trying to equalize with the same unfamiliar attack-focused game plan they adopted after conceding earlier. Seattle did well to hold on early, and in attempt to shore up the defensive side of things for the final thirty minutes, brought on Alonso for Bruin. This marked Alonso’s first return to action since being injured against the Colorado Rapids on July 4.
Stefan Frei was forced to make his first real save of the match in the 62nd minute when he made a quick reaction grab after SKC substitute Latif Blessing hit a stinging shot into the top corner. Kansas City continued to control possession in Seattle’s half, and even though they didn’t get too dangerous again, they forced the Sounders into some silly mistakes. Torres saw yellow for sending Blessing flying on what should have been an innocuous tackle.
The Sounders had a couple solid chances that didn’t come of anything, including one that resulted in a Dempsey shot straight into the face of KC defender Erik Palmer-Brown. The away side had another dangerous opportunity as they committed more and more numbers in Seattle’s half, but Frei made a clean save on James Musa’s shot from deep. Taking advantage of KC’s tired legs, the Sounders managed a few more opportunities and came rather close with a few of them. Morris, who moved up top when Bruin came off, used his speed to latch onto more than one through ball but he wasn’t able to convert any more into goals.
Despite the second half push by KC, the Sounders held on to what could be three of the most vital points they earn this season.
The win puts the Sounders at the top of the Western Conference table, barring results from the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas, both of whom could jump them on tiebreakers if they win their games later in the day. Still, this marks the first time since June 2015 that the Sounders have reached this height, a feat made even more impressive due to their slow start.
This was also the first time since the season-opener in 2014 that the Sounders had beaten Sporting KC in the regular season and Dempsey’s goal snapped a 363-minute scoreless drought that dated back to Chad Barrett’s stoppage-time winner in that game.