It was a high-intensity MLS grudge match better suited for late October, not on the final day of March.
And it featured the most uncommon of two opponents — reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle and expansion franchise Atlanta United FC.
Bodies were flying. Players were jawing. Grabbing and pushing were required just to stay on your feet.
And at the end of 90, the Sounders and Atlanta played to what was an entertaining 0-0 tie Friday night in front of 40,182 at CenturyLink Field.
Afterward, the club lamented all the blown scoring chances it had in the second half — especially after forward Clint Dempsey, who did not start, came on in the 57th minute.
“We both had a lot of opportunities, but it is a bummer,” Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro said. “We need to win all of our games at home.”
Off national-team duty, two Sounders starters — Dempsey and center back Roman Torres — were not in the original lineup.
And coach Brian Schmetzer was dealt a curveball a half-hour before kickoff when Chad Marshall, the team’s other center back, was unable to go because of an illness.
That meant the starting defensive unit consisted of Tony Alfaro and Gustav Svensson at center back, Joevin Jones at left back and Jordy Delem — making his Sounders debut — at right back.
The patchwork lineup held up keeping the Eastern Conference’s top-scoring squad off the scoreboard.
“They all played hard with the right amount of aggression without getting themselves in trouble,” Schmetzer said. “As individuals, they defended well. But also as a group, they defended well.”
This showdown had an edge to it throughout — mostly fostered by Atlanta’s style, which led to 18 fouls, including two yellow cards.
And yet, the whole match seemed to turn in Seattle’s favor when Schmetzer called upon Dempsey, who was coming off two stellar World Cup qualifiers in which he totaled four goals.
If we were ahead 3-0, I might have had a different mindset (whether to play Dempsey),” Schmetzer said. “Clint was going to play. There was no question.”
Dempsey nearly put the Sounders on top a minute after entering the match, but his header in the penalty box hit the right post, and bounced away. It was the best scoring chance for either side.
Seattle kept ripping shot after shot over the final 30 minutes. It registered nine shots on goals.
“There were some guys who might have been a little hesitant to pull the trigger,” Schmetzer said. “We need to get a few more shots on target.”
Atlanta nearly pulled ahead late on a counterattack. Miguel Almiron ripped a left-footed whizzer in the 87th minute that goalkeeper Stefan Frei dove to collect.
Frei also made another unusual save in the first half.
After Atlanta’s Hector Villalba got loose in the middle of the field in the 12th minute, Frei read the play perfectly —and came up near the edge of the penalty box to literally snatch the ball off of Villalba’s foot before he could get a shot off.
The Sounders best first-half opportunity was also early. Jordan Morris sent a cross in from the left side that curled right into Cristian Roldan’s body. Roldan got a shot off with his chest right in front of the goal, but it stayed wide left.
These two clubs met in the preseason at the Carolina Challenge Cup in South Carolina. Atlanta won, 4-2.
Seattle is now 3-1-3 all-time against MLS expansion teams — and 2-0-3 at home. … Marshall saw his 12-game streak of starting MLS regular-season matches end. The last time he sat out was last July at Houston. … Delem became the fifth player to see time at right back this season. He was signed to the S2 squad last season.