The Seattle Sounders sent a significantly reworked lineup into Red Bulls Arena on Saturday and came out with their first loss since mid-August.
Playing the middle game in a stretch of three games in nine days, Seattle went with a first 11 lacking usual starters such as forwards Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, midfielders Gonzalo Pineda and Brad Evans, and defenders Leo Gonzalez and DeAndre Yedlin.
By the time Dempsey and Martins came on for the final half hour, the Sounders already were trailing 3-0. And all three of those goals came from MLS goals-leader Bradley Wright-Phillips, whose third hat trick of the season led New York to a 4-1 home win before a sellout crowd of 25,000.
The result ended Seattle’s five-game unbeaten streak and four-game winning streak.
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“I needed to rest some guys today. There was no other option. There was no way around that,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “But (I’m) disappointed in the performance of some of our guys. And I think Red Bull was highly motivated. They were going to bring their top game into this one, and they did, and they finished their chances much better than we finished ours.”
New York jumped ahead in the first half-minute as goalkeeper Stefan Frei punched away a shot by Ambroise Oyongo, but the deflection went to Wright-Phillips, who redirected it into the net.
“When we give them four goals — especially the first one from the first minute — I think that killed us,” defender Djimi Traore said. “I don't think we ever came back from that first goal.”
Wright-Phillips made it 2-0 in the 53rd minute on a penalty kick awarded after Seattle defender Dylan Remick knocked down Lloyd Sam on the right of the penalty area.
Two minutes later, Wright-Phillips got completed his hat trick, splitting defenders Chad Marshall and Traore.
That was Wright-Phillips’ 24th goal of the season, leaving him three short of the MLS record shared by Roy Lassiter and Chris Wondolowski with five regular-season games remaining.
“Three goals tonight: huge goals, great goals,” New York coach Mike Petke said. “I’m proud of him, and I told you a million times that his main focus is not the record; but of course the record would be a nice little icing on the cake for him. But he’s producing for us, so I’m very happy.”
At that point, there seemed the possibility Schmid would give his resting players the entire night off, with another league match looming Wednesday at Dallas. Instead, he sent Martins on in the 59th minute, with Dempsey following in the 60th.
Two minutes later, Dempsey took a pass from Lamar Neagle and knocked in his 12th goal of the season.
However, the Sounders’ hopes of a comeback were jolted in the 65th minute when Traore misplayed a clearance directly to Tim Cahill, who sent the shot through the Seattle defense and inside the far post.
The Sounders fell to 17-8-3, while the Red Bulls climbed to 10-8-11. The all-time series between the clubs clicked even at 3-3-3.
“We just made too many individual mistakes,” Schmid said. “I mean you look at the PK: We give that away. You look at the third goal where we just get beat for pace — and our right back’s not that slow, he shouldn’t get beat for pace. Djimi Traore clears the ball right to the guy, so that’s another goal. You know it’s a lot of individual mistakes that ended up happening that cost the team. … But it’s just one of those days at the office where you forget about it and you move on.”