Seattle Sounders FC overcame some bad omens Saturday on its way to a 1-0 road victory over the Columbus Crew.
First, the game was delayed more than 90 minutes because of a storm rolling over central Ohio.
Then, in just the sixth minute, Seattle defender Leo Gonzalez was sent off with a straight red card for grabbing Ryan Finley, who had a clear path to the goal.
The Sounders’ fortunes began to brighten in the 14th minute, when Eddie Johnson headed in his seventh goal of the season.
All that remained after that was for Seattle to somehow defend that lead for 75 minutes despite being a man down. The Sounders pulled it off, despite being outshot 24-7 and holding 42.4 percent of the possession.
Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning made three saves on the way to his second consecutive shutout.
“We plan everything during the week, but you don’t plan to lose a man five minutes into the game,” captain Mauro Rosales told KONG 6/16. “It was really, really hard to play against this team. They had the chances; they wanted to take the three points. … We did something special today because playing with 10 men; the character that we showed today is amazing. I’m proud of my boys, so proud of the guys. We played with the heart today.”
The Sounders’ fifth win in their past six games lifted them past Portland and Colorado and into third place in the Western Conference with a 12-8-4 record – still with the fewest games played in the conference and with three home games directly ahead. Columbus fell to 8-13-5.
The winning goal at sold-out Crew Stadium came in the 14th minute, when Rosales sent a free kick into the heart of the penalty area and Johnson headed it in. It was the second consecutive game the Rosales-Johnson combination provided the only goal. It also moved Johnson into a tie for the team goals lead with Obafemi Martins (7).
“It was great,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Good service from Mauro, and Eddie is so good in the air. He’s starting to get some headers for us. … He’s just got to keep it going. It’s great.”
Johnson created a controversy among fans and media with a post-goal celebration in which he seemed to rub his fingers and thumb together and mouth the words “Pay me.” Sounders officials say Johnson was not asked about the incident during postgame interviews.
Johnson makes $156,333 in guaranteed compensation this season, a figure that has been dwarfed by recent designated player Clint Dempsey ($5 million) and Martins ($1.7 million).
There were other postgame concerns. Midfielder Brad Evans had to leave the match in the 19th minute with an apparent leg injury.
Meanwhile, Evans, Johnson and Dempsey were scheduled to fly out Sunday to join the U.S. national team for a pair of World Cup qualifying matches that would cost them two and perhaps three games away from the Sounders.
And because of his red card, Gonzalez also will be missing Wednesday when the Sounders begin a three-game homestand against Chivas USA.More notes and quotes are available online at blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer.