The Sounders survived an immensely crabby first half, which saw the ejections of Obafemi Martins and his one-time teammate, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, for a wild 3-2 win over the Fire in Chicago Saturday to enter the three-week World Cup break with 32 points and an MLS-best 10-3-2 mark. Real Salt Lake’s loss Saturday to Portland gives Seattle a seven-point advantage in the West.
The Fire remains the only MLS team never to have beaten the Sounders, who are 6-0-3 against the ninth-place team in the East.
Martins had a brace in the first half but was ejected in the 40th minute, just moments after Fire rookie Harrison Shipp scored to cut the Sounders’ lead to 2-1.
Martins drew his second yellow card of the half during a dead-ball scrap after the Fire continuously targeted him with physical defense. After seeing the card, Martins kicked the ball away in anger and marched off the field.
The final 50 minutes was played 10 a side. In the 39th minute, Hurtado, traded by Seattle to Chicago in the off-season after five years in Seattle, delivered a two-footed takedown of the oncoming Martins in the area to draw his second yellow of the half. Martins easily converted the PK, his eighth goal of the season, for a 2-0 lead.
He opened the scoring eight minutes earlier. Chad Barrett sent a ball from the end line back up field where Brad Evans, charging from right back, corralled the pass and sent it directly ahead to Martins. He beat a defender and whirled from eight yards that left GK Sean Johnson no chance.
The first half was full of scrums, shoves and hostile rhetoric as the Fire, playing its third game seven days, evidently thought playing recklessly was its only hope.
Matters calmed in the second half. Lamar Neagle appeared to put the game away in the 78th minute when he controlled a loose ball in front of the goal by chesting calmly to his feet as the defense moved toward him. From about 10 yards, he blasted a shot around a defender and past Johnson, who barely moved as the ball cruised into the side net.
The 3-1 lead lasted four minutes as Shipp, a leading contender for rookie of the year, found a gap in the Sounders defense from 15 yards and sent a shot across the goal mouth past Stefan Frei just inside the near post.
The Sounders stalled out the remaining time. Frei had three saves of point-blank shots in the second half, including nearly back-to-back in the 59th minute. But goals by Shipp, largely due to back-line breakdowns, were the first run-of-play goals by Chicago in its last five games.
The Sounders again played without Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin, off with the U.S. Men’s National Team, which won its final match in the Send-Off Series 2-1 over Nigeria Saturday in Jacksonville, FL. They are off to Brazil, where they open play against Ghana June 16.
The Sounders have a break until June 28 in the nation’s capital against D.C. United, for which Martins will be suspended.