For a club that struggled with injuries, the circumstances were less than ideal. Clint Dempsey’s return to the MLS and first appearance with the Sounders came when forward Obafemi Martins had to leave in the 34th minute after awkwardly absorbing a tackle during Seattle’s 2-1 win Saturday in Canada against Toronto FC (4-11-8, 20 points).
Dempsey, who began on the bench but jogged onto BMO Field to a smattering of applause and loud boos, almost immediately had a scoring chance thwarted by a takedown from Ashtone Morgan in what became a physical, testy game.
The captain of the U.S. Men’s National Team was active with five shots, but didn’t record a goal or assist on a night when Seattle seemed well on its way to a blowout, but instead had to grind through a tough road win.
The Sounders (10-7-4, 34 points) jumped to a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute when Mauro Rosales scored after Brad Evans lobbed a perfect pass into the box to Eddie Johnson. Using that interesting dyed-blonde hair, he headed the ball back to Rosales, who sneaked behind a disheveled Toronto defense.
The Sounders lucked into another when Toronto’s Doneil Henry deflected a pass from Lamar Neagle into his own net in the 40th minute, an embarrassing own goal. Seattle carried the 2-0 lead into halftime, but it would barely last.
Toronto forward Jonathan Osorio scored in the 46th minute to cut the Sounders lead in half. The goal was a spark for a fledgling club that entered ninth in the Eastern Conference standings. Seattle spent the rest of the night scrambling to prevent the equalizer.
To their credit, they came through, but it wasn’t without the type of drama that coach Sigi Schmid could do without.
In the 60th minute, newly inserted Toronto forward Robert Earnshaw cracked a strike off the right post before the Sounders managed to clear the ball. Minutes later, Sounders defender Leo Gonzalez almost committed an egregious own goal, but his erroneous redirect sailed just wide of the post and goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann.
In the final moments of stoppage time, Hahnemann made a game-saving stop after a long pass over the top of the Seattle defense nearly led to an equalizer via Jeremy Brockie. But his chance was fruitless.
Call it the Dempsey effect. The Sounders’ newest acquisition exhibited the footwork that inspired GM Adrian Hanauer to sign the seven-year English Premier League veteran to a four-year contract that in 2013 pays about $5 million.
The win catapulted the Sounders from 7th to 5th in the Western Conference standings and pushed them into the playoff picture. The top five teams from each conference reach the postseason.
Notes: Officials issued Eddie Johnson a yellow card for diving in the first half. He will have to sit out the the Sounders’ next match Saturday against the Houston Dynamo, because of yellow-card accumulation . . . Brad Evans has two goals and two assists in his last three matches. His five assists in 2013 match a career-high . . . The Sounders have a league-best 42-game unbeaten streak (34-0-8) when they score first . . . Goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, 41, is the third keeper in club history to win his first two matches . . . The Sounders are 6-1-1 all-time against Toronto FC, winning their past five meetings . . . The match marked the first time Dempsey stepped on an MLS field since he played in the 2006 MLS Cup Final (11/12/06).