The top two teams in MLS were missing their best players, but the Sounders’ depth helped them dominate a game of attrition for a 4-0 triumph Saturday afternoon in front of 39,245 at the Clink that was Real Salt Lake’s first defeat of the season.
Gonzalo Pineda and Marco Pappa scored on set pieces, Chad Barrett finished off a breakaway and Obafemi Martins scored late and easily to put the Sounders (9-3-2) five points clear of RSL.
RSL (6-1-6) came in having matched the MLS record for longest start without a defeat, but was without goalkeeper Nick Rimando, midfielder Kyle Beckerman and forward Alvaro Saborio, all with pre-World Cup duties. Also, forward Joao Plata traveled but didn’t play because of a hamstring injury.
Absent for the Sounders were forward Clint Dempsey and defender DeAndre Yedlin, but the Sounders’ reserves were more than up to the task against a team that surrendered only 13 goals all season. They were helped by RSL defender Aaron Maund, who committed the fouls that set up the first two goals.
Coach Sigi Schmid was delighted with just about everything he saw, especially the unity in his crew.
“It’s not only our depth; it’s our spirit,” he said. “The guys like each other, the guys work hard for each other, the guys battle for each other. It doesn’t matter who is out there on the field.”
In the 41st minute, Lamar Neagle attempted a contested header, and the ball dropped in front of goalie Jeff Attinella. Neagle kicked the ball out of the onrushing Attinella’s hands and kept pursuing until Maund gave him a shoulder shove near the end line.
The penalty kick went to Pineda. Attinella guessed correctly by going to his right, but Pineda’s shot went above his hands and below the crossbar inside the near post.
The 1-0 halftime lead — only the second time RSL trailed at the half this season — doubled in the 55th minute when Maund fouled again, setting up a free kick by Marco Pappa. He struck a perfect left-footed shot from 25 yards, over the wall and below the crossbar as it bent past the beleaguered Attinella, stepping in for Rimando, a Sounders nemesis.
In the 61st minute, Neagle broke away ahead of the defense and slid a cross to Barrett, steaming down the left flank, for a point-blank shot that became his second goal in as many games.
Martins closed it out in the 90th minute with a tap-in after a crisp cross from Kenny Cooper.
The Sounders defense held up well, goalie Stefan Frei not having to make a save until the 72nd minute.
The margin of victory equaled the club record, and was the third time this season the Sounders, MLS leader in goals, scored four. The Sounders lead the series across all competitions with RSL 7-6-5.
“We’ve talked about creating some separation there,” he said of second-place RSL. “As a group, we are maturing. Being able to step into a game between a first-place team and a second-place team and being able to win with a convincing result speaks volumes for our character.
“t was mainly that we wanted to beat them. It was No. 1 vs. No. 2, and we wanted to show them what we’re made of.”
The Sounders have one more league match in Chicago Sunday without their international players before MLS takes a three-week break during FIFA World Cup group play.