Clint Dempsey returned to Major League Soccer on Sunday and picked up where he left off, scoring the first goal as Seattle Sounders FC defeated the Portland Timbers, 2-0, before a crowd of 64,207 at CenturyLink Field.
Dempsey and defender DeAndre Yedlin had been out of MLS action since May 11, when they left for World Cup duty.
Yedlin returned Wednesday to help the Sounders to a 3-1 win over Portland in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals. Dempsey followed Sunday, going 90 minutes and launching Seattle to its victory in the rematch.
“We’re happy any time we can get two wins against Portland in a week,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “… (I’m) actually a little bit surprised that we got as many minutes out of Clint as we did. That was over and beyond the call of duty. But great to have those guys back, great to get a win at home.”
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Neither team managed much offense early, but things picked up considerably in the second half, especially when Obafemi Martins subbed on for Chad Barrett in the 51st minute. Martins had missed the Sounders’ loss in Vancouver last week due to a hamstring injury.
“Playing with Oba is like playing pickup, just in terms of we just look for each other. We see the game the same,” Dempsey said. “We like to link up and make those passes that create space for each other so that we can create chances for each other to get looks in front of goal.”
Still, goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts kept Portland even until the 71st minute, when Dempsey struck. The sequence began with defended shots from Dempsey and a follow by Martins. Finally, Gonzalo Pineda steered the ball back toward goal and Dempsey finished from about 6 yards.
The goal moved Dempsey past Martins and alone into the team lead with nine.
“It’s always great to play a part in helping the team win, but like I said it’s about the team,” Dempsey said “It’s a team effort and I thought we looked really good. I thought we put in a complete performance.”
Marco Pappa provided some breathing room by finishing a Seattle counter in the 86th minute, assisted by Lamar Neagle.
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei made it stand up, turning aside the three shots that Portland put on goal.
“That was one of the easiest shutouts I’ve had this season,” Frei said. “Even when they did finally get an opportunity to shoot we were able to get blocks in. So very, very good defensive effort as a team: good shape, organized. It just took us a big longer to get that second goal than we probably wanted, but it was good to get it and get the W.”
Seattle (12-4-2) extended its lead atop MLS, while the Timbers (4-6-9) suffered another blow to their playoff hopes.
The Sounders also gained ground in the Cascadia Cup race, where Vancouver (2-0-1) leads with seven points, followed by Seattle (1-1-2) with five and Portland (0-1-1) with one.
Seattle also moved its all-time record to 10-0-3 in MLS when playing before crowds of 40,000 or more. The crowd was the largest in the league this season, but short of the Sounders club record of 67,385 set last season against the Timbers.
“It was incredible,” central defender Chad Marshall said. “I’ll definitely remember walking out into that stadium the rest of my life.”
Even with the return of Dempsey and Yedlin from international duty and Martins from hamstring injury, the Sounders were missing key players.
Midfielder/defender Brad Evans wasn’t in uniform due to a knee still sore from a knock during the Open Cup match at midweek. Left back Leo Gonzalez also was left off the game-day roster due to a tweak in his previously injured hamstring.
The Sounders return to action Saturday when Tottenham of the English Premier League visits for a friendly. Seattle’s next league match will be July 28, at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy.