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Postgame Pontifications: Chivas fans helped raise the intensity level

And the Sounders were up to the task.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — With each passing year we are reminded that Clint Dempsey is getting a little older. His game becomes more stripped down, he plays a little less. What hasn’t changed is his ability to score big goals in big games.

After resting for the league opener, Dempsey was up to his old tricks against Chivas. He may not have been much of a factor on the defensive end — although he was doing his part — but as soon as the ball got around the attacking third he was in the middle of it all.

Dempsey nearly scored a couple wonder-goals when he trapped balls and put in bouncing shots that forced full-stretch saves and then came good when Henry Wingo hit him with a perfect pass almost right on top of the penalty spot. A younger version of Dempsey may have actually scored a couple more goals — Nicolas Lodeiro (video) and Lamar Neagle (video) both set him up for chances he’s finished many times before — but this was yet another reminder that he’s still got plenty of good soccer to play.

Dempsey now has three career goals in CONCACAF Champions League play. All three have come against Liga MX opponents. But he’s yet to score a goal in Mexico, for club or country. (In fact Mexico is one of only two national teams he’s faced more than once and never scored against.) If the Sounders are to finish off Chivas next week, they’re probably going to need Dempsey to have a significant impact.

One gets the distinct sense that Dempsey welcomes that kind of pressure.

“They’re going to come out and try and take the game to us,” Dempsey told reporters in the postgame mixed zone. “We’ve just got to do a good job of trying to keep possession and create our own chances and if we’re able to an away goal, that’ll make it really difficult for them. But this will be a tough game. We have to go out there and put in a great performance. That’s what it’s about. That’s why you have two legs, you’ve got to do it at home but you’ve got to do it away.”

Here’s what else I was thinking about following that game:

Red and white invasion

As I wrote about immediately following the game, it’s a little embarrassing that so many Seattle Sounders fans chose to sell their tickets rather than watch their team take one one of the most famous teams in the Western Hemisphere in a meaningful match. At the same time, I genuinely found that atmosphere electric in a way that I’m not sure I remember a game feeling before.

It was possibly the first time in my life that I attended a sporting match where both teams were so well supported and it brought an energy to the stadium that was unique, at least in the history of the Sounders.

For the most part, I think it felt like a Sounders home game. ECS was at full volume and a constant presence. Whenever a “Seattle. Sounders.” call-and-repeat started, the whole stadium seemingly joined in. When Dempsey scored, the pressbox shook just like it does whenever a big goal is scored in a big game.

No matter what they tell themselves, away supporters can barely be heard outside of their corner of the stadium (yes, even when there’s a few hundred). The difference was felt in fits and starts, but especially when the “Chivas, Chivas, Chivas” chants kicked in. Not only was there a hundred or so fans in their normal spot in the northeast upper deck, the 300s and the Hawks Nest were both seemingly packed with red and white and you could see pockets of Chivas fans throughout. When a big call got made, there were cheers and boos of almost equal volume.

I’m not saying that I don’t love how much of a home-field advantage the Sounders usually get, but this was a nice change for one night. Aside from “the chant” being heard on some goal kicks and a fan getting kicked out for trying to shine a laser point at players, most accounts of interactions with Chivas fans were exceptionally positive. It also showed just how much of an untapped fanbase is still out there for the Sounders to grab.

Nerves of steel

When the starting lineup was released, one name stood out among all the others: Handwalla Bwana. The Sounders Homegrown Player had only made his MLS debut a few days earlier and had certainly never faced competition on the scale of Chivas before.

Bwana talked about being so nervous that he was literally shaking while trying to tie his shoes and even told Dempsey “I’m really scared right now” when they were getting ready to kick off. Dempsey responded “They brought you here for a reason, show the fans what you’re about.”

That’s exactly what he did. Regardless of how he felt on the inside, Bwana outwardly looked like a kid playing without a care in the world. This may have led to a few moments of ill-advised confidence — one failed backheel stands out — but otherwise he was providing the sort of wing play the Sounders have so often lacked. Bwana stayed wide and attacked his defender at almost every opportunity. He deserved to have won at least one penalty (video), nearly latched onto the rebound from Will Bruin’s header off the post (video) and just generally put himself in dangerous positions all night. He also never looked overwhelmed defensively, despite going against some very good players.

Henry Wingo, who replaced him, rightly is getting a lot of the attention for setting up the goal, but Bwana showed some qualities that suggest he may have an even higher upside.

Dominating the midfield

If there’s one reason to be confident about the Sounders chances in Guadalajara next week, it’s the way they bossed the midfield. Specifically, the play of Gustav Svensson and Cristian Roldan, who made absolutely certain that Chivas was unable to build anything going through the middle.

Roldan and Svensson defensive actions.

This is the a map of their defensive actions, making the middle of the park look like an absolute graveyard for Chivas attacks. Roldan by himself was credited with 14 recoveries and eight tackles while Svensson was credited with five interceptions. Nicolas Lodeiro even chipped in with 10 recoveries and four tackles. It won’t be easy to repeat this performance, especially at altitude, but it was a good reminder that Svensson and Roldan were among the best central midfield pairing in the league last year.

The game in one gif

It’s so easy to miss the little things guys like Roldan do in a game that help set a tone. This was one of those moments. Nothing ultimately came of it, but just that Roldan could show off this kind of skill in this moment sort of a sent a message that this was not a team to be trifled with.

Quote of the day

“Certainly the Chivas fans made some noise, I think it added to the atmosphere. It was going all game, even in warmups people were going back and forth. It was good.” - Brian Schmetzer

One stat to tell the tale

28 — The Sounders were +28 in successful duels and tackles, illustrating just how much more aggressive and energetic they were in comparison to Chivas.

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