After three games and three losses, Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid extensively reworked his lineup for the Saturday match with Montreal.
The result was a 1-0 win — and Seattle’s first points of season.
The difference was a Clint Dempsey header in the 79th minute, finishing a corner kick from Andreas Ivanschitz.
“Encouraging or relief, I don’t know which it is,” Schmid said. “… It was good to see us hold it together and not give up any clean chances at the end. Being in the situation we’re in, you start to worry a little bit. Now you get the confidence.”
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Schmid had hinted that there might be changes for this match, and there were. Big ones. Although healthy, rookie forward Jordan Morris was out of the starting lineup for the first time in his pro career. And that was just one of two changes in what had been the regular three-man forward line.
Schmid chose to flank incumbent Nelson Valdez with Aaron Kovar, previously a reserve, and Ivanschitz, previously a midfielder. Dempsey complemented the Ivanschitz shift by sliding back to midfield.
Those moves were by the coach’s choice. There were no injuries up top, although Schmid had implied Morris might benefit from a break after the disappointment of the USA U-23 national team failing to qualify for the Summer Olympics.
However, changes along the back line were driven by health considerations. Brad Evans returned to center back after recovering for a shoulder injury, while Dylan Remick got his first start of the season replacing left back Joevin Jones, who suffered a knee bruise in a Tuesday match with Trinidad and Tobago.
“We switched Dempsey and Ivanschitz,” Schmid said. “Obviously, Ivanschitz played a little more two way out there. We also wanted him to tuck in a little bit more in this game because we wanted (Cristian) Roldan to deal a lot more with (Montreal midfielder Ignacio) Piatti. I thought Roldan and (Osvaldo) Alonso with (Tyrone) Mears did a pretty good job over there on Piatti. So part of it was a tactical shift for this game. And then Dempsey, we wanted to put him in a spot on the field because I think he’s our most creative player.”
The new look made a good impression early. The Sounders dominated possession and chances for the first 15 minutes. After that, things evened and slowed. But after three games when the Sounders thought they played well but received no reward, they were more than happy to finally win a game, even if it was no beauty.
“You sort of grind one out a little bit,” Schmid said. “And then from there the road gets easier.”
Morris subbed in for Kovar in the 57th minute. But it was Schmid’s second substitution in the 68th minute that had more obvious impact. Oalex Anderson subbed on for Valdez and quickly injected new energy into the Sounders’ attack. His obvious speed drew immediate attention from the announced crowd of 39,705 at CenturyLink, and then he supplemented that with a couple of spinning runs that drew gasps.
Schmid’s final substitution came in the 74th minute as a matter of necessity, with Jones filling in when Remick limped off with a cramp.
Newly acquired forward Herculez Gomez was in the game-day roster, but did not make his Sounders debut.
Montreal fell to 2-2 on the season, but still leads the series with Seattle, 3-2.
The Sounders (1-3) return to action April 10 at Houston.
The basics: After opening the season with three straight losses, coach Sigi Schmid shook up the Seattle lineup and it paid off with a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact.
The goal: In the 79th minute, Clint Dempsey got his first goal of the season, heading in a corner kick from Andreas Ivanschitz.
Players of the match: Dempsey played a middle midfielder role, and was the straw the stirred the drink most of the way. Late sub Oalex Anderson quickly became a fan favorite with burning speed and spinning moves on the ball.
Key moment: It might have come when Schmid filled out his lineup card, which benched rookie Jordan Morris, inserted Aaron Kovar, dropped Clint Dempsey back to midfield, and moved Andreas Ivanschitz up to forward. Among other moves.
Notes: Morris subbed on in the 65th minute. … Other subs were Anderson, and Joevin Jones who came on in the 79th minute when Dylan Remick limped off. … Seattle moved to 2-3 in the series, and 1-1 at CenturyLink. … Schmid said he will have a serious conversation with Ivanschitz, who drew a yellow card for dissent.
Next match: At Houston Dynamo; 1 p.m. April 10.