The pressure of expectations was heaped on the Sounders in home debut of Clint Dempsey. They came through with a 1-0 triumph that delighted the biggest soccer crowd in NW history.
Tifo-ing, standing, chanting, shoving, pushing, complaining, swearing, stretchering, dead-ball fouling. Ah . . . another Sounders-Timbers split-lip festival. Somehow, a goal erupted in the mayhem Sunday night, otherwise the brawl would have spilled into Pioneer Square, destined for much untidiness with mounted police and tasers.
Fortunately for civil stability, the Sounders prevailed 1-0, the Timbers were injured and cranky, and the soccer world saw that the Northwest axis of Major League Soccer can put on a big show.
It was as close as it gets to a must-win game in the regular-season game for the Sounders. The franchise became an object of international attention by prying away Clint Dempsey from Tottenham for $20 million, and his home debut cranked up the expectations, especially since Portland was ahead of Seattle in the MLS table, an indignity unfamiliar to Sounders fans.
So, minus an allotment of 1,500 for the Oregon outlanders, fans showed up strong to the Clink, 67,385 — the Northwest record for a soccer match — and watched their team press so hard in the first half they were nearly exposed on the back end. And nearly knocked into next week by the Timbers, who seemed to have brought extra sets of elbows, knees and shoulders.
“I thought it was a little more physical than it needed to be,” said Schmid after Portland was called for 16 fouls to Seattle’s 10. “It took away from the quality of the game.”
The relentless banging also offered the fatal blow for the Timbers — a 59th-minute yellow card on the hyper-aggressive defender, Pa Modu Kah, who took down Eddie Johnson from behind. Mauro Rosales, subbed in four minutes earlier, took the free kick from 30 yards and dropped the dime on Johnson’s blond-dyed hair, which redirected past goalie Donovan Ricketts.
Relief more than joy coursed the Clink, because to that point the Timbers held the edge on goal threats — and physical threats, particularly against Dempsey, who was marked relentlessly by the Timbers.
“It was a hard game for him today,” Schmid said. “The stats say he got fouled four times, but I think it was more than that.
“I thought his energy was pretty good, but in the final 10-12 minutes, you could see he was a little tired. He’s still gaining his sharpness.”
Dempsey showed some of his international-class flair with a no-look pass and two attempts at bicycle kicks. But he always drew a Portland crowd, and remained scoreless in his return to MLS.
He offered no complaints.
“It’s always going to be like that in derby games where you’re playing against your rivals,” Dempsey said. “You never want to lose. Everybody is going to show that they came to play. I thought we had more quality, and I thought we deserved to win.
“It’s physical. It’s reckless challenges. It’s getting frustrated. It’s battling through it. It’s showing character. That’s what you have to have in these types of games. Being able to push yourself to the limit, but not too far. You don’t want to get red cards or stuff like that.”
In the absence of top scorer Obafemi Martins, who watched from suites as he nursed a sprained ankle, Dempsey was paired up front with Johnson. They helped Seattle to a 15-10 edge in attempts on goal, but few were definitive.
“I tried,” Dempsey said. “I had a little ninja kick trying to put the ball in. I had a bicycle. I had a header. I had a shot that the keeper mis-hit for a corner . . . all-in-all, I’m getting good looks, I’m putting people through.
“It’s just a matter of time before goals and assists start coming. But I’m happy with the touches I was getting. More importantly, I’m happy with how the team played.”
Timbers coach Caleb Porter, who was caught full face by ESPN2 cameras mouthing an obscenity along the sideline in the early minutes, was equally proud of the Timbers.
“For us to come in to this environment, and basically go toe-to-toe with one of the most talented teams in the league and control large periods . . . we had chances,” he said. “It was a very even game and it was a real credit to our guys, especially with the fact that we had several guys out.”
For Sounders defender Zach Scott, the intense, European-style atmosphere that lingered throughout made for an unforgettable night.
“That was pretty cool,” he said. “Definitely up there on my list of amazing things I’ve gotten to see and do because of soccer. The inaugural game for the Sounders was something pretty surreal. This, I feel tops it.”
Added Schmid: “It was phenomenal. I drove in around 2:30 p.m., and all I saw were people in green walking around, looking for liquid refreshment. It was fantastic. As the teams marched for the anthem, everything was full. I still pinch myself when I see that.”
Timbers co-captain Jack Jewsbury collided with Dempsey in mid-air during a bicycle kick and came down with an injured knee in the 86th minute. He had to be stretchered off . . . Seattle (2-1-1-, seven points) took over the lead in the Cascadia Cup standings over Vancouver (1-1-2, five points and Portland 0-1-3, three points . . . the crowd topped the pr record of 67,052 for a friendly with Manchester United in 2011 . . . The Sounders are 8-0-2 in matches drawing more than 40,000 . . .The Sounders continue their club-record 10-game home unbeaten streak (7-0-3)