At a desperate juncture in their season, the Seattle Sounders could not have been set up better for a much-needed Major League Soccer victory Wednesday night.
With FC Dallas resting many of its key regular goal scorers, the sure-footed Sounders manhandled the Toros, 5-0, in front of 40,101 at CenturyLink Field.
It was the most goals the Sounders scored in an MLS match since 2011 when they defeated Columbus, 6-2, in Seattle.
“Today we were able to finish the chances we created — and we probably had a couple more,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said.
Last-place Seattle also snapped its four-match league skid to pick up three points before heading out for a rival showdown Sunday at Portland.
The Sounders tallied three goals in the first 22 minutes against the MLS Western Conference leaders. It was the first time they had scored two or more goals in the first half of any league match all season.
And the last time Seattle saw that kind of goal-scoring output was last October in a 3-1 victory over Real Salt Lake to close out the regular season. The Sounders scored three times in the first 20 minutes of that victory.
This victory should have been a stress-free yawner, right?
Well, not exactly.
That is because star Clint Dempsey was the recipient of an ill-timed and potentially costly red card. Because of it, he will miss the Timbers match Sunday at Providence Park.
“He is a massive part of this team — and he’s a massive part of this league,” Seattle defender Brad Evans said, “When you lose that attitude, that fighting spirit, somebody has got to step in and take over that role for us, because in a rivalry game, that can be key.”
Jordan Morris had just given the Sounders a 3-0 lead off a nifty pass by Dempsey. The rookie beat defender Ryan Hollingshead to the feed on the right side, and blasted a shot past goalkeeper Chris Seitz at close quarters in the 22nd minute.
That is when it got a little heated.
Eleven minutes later, with Dempsey camped out near the left sideline, some 40 yards away from the goal, Toros midfielder Juan Esteban Ortiz lightly charged into the Seattle forward.
Taking exception to it, Dempsey delivered a deliberate glancing slap off Ortiz’s face, which caught the FC Dallas player squarely in the eye. Ortiz went down to the ground immediately.
That was reason enough for referee Ricardo Salazar to give Dempsey the boot with a hotly contested and loudly booed red card. Ortiz was issued a yellow card, too.
“I though Ortiz went into him pretty hard with an elbow, and sort of went across his body,” Schmid said. “But I can’t really comment on Clint’s actions because I haven’t seen the replay.”
This wasn’t Dempsey’s first ejection with the Sounders. Last summer in a U.S. Open match against Portland at Starfire Stadium, Dempsey was given a red card for grabbing referee Daniel Radford’s notebook and ripping it up. He was suspended three games by MLS.
In 2014, he was handed a two-game suspension for violent conduct against defender Mark Bloom in a match against Toronto FC.
“He competes, and he is also often times a target,” Schmid said. “People forget that the opponent sometimes targets him, so they put a little extra into it. The protection from the referees has to be there as well.”
Dempsey was long gone from the locker room afterward, and unavailable for comment.
This latest incident could really cost the team. With 16 MLS matches remaining this season, the Sounders cannot afford to suffer too many more losses if they want to climb back into playoff contention.
Speculation was running rampant over the past couple of days whether or not FC Dallas would rest some of its starters Wednesday.
The Toros are in the middle of a busy July stretch — they play six matches in 20 days, including four on the road.
After a 1-0 victory at San Jose on Friday, FC Dallas opted to stay on the West Coast. The Toros flew up to Seattle on Monday.
Indeed, they held a ton of their firepower out of the starting lineup, including midfielders Michael Barrios, Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz, and forward Maximiliano Urruti — four of their top five goal scorers.
“I had a couple of words for my team about that,” said Schmid, who was noticeably irked by the FC Dallas lineup changes. “And they reacted appropriately.”
Seattle started attacking from the get-go.
With open space down the left sideline, Joevin Jones sidestepped Ortiz and unleashed a cross to Dempsey on the left post.
Dempsey’s shot was deflected by Seitz — but it came right to Andreas Ivanschitz, who uncorked a heater that appeared headed inside the right post.
That is when Maynor Figueroa stuck out his hand and redirected the ball. Salazar awared the Sounders a penalty, and Figueroa received a red card for the infraction inside the penalty box in the fourth minute.
Dempsey went high and right on the penalty kick for his third goal of the season. The tally also ended FC Dallas’ scoreless streak against at 321 minutes.
It was the Sounders’ first penalty-kick goal of the season.
Ivanschitz scored 12 minutes later, lobbing a shot over the heads of defender Atiba Harris and an oncoming Seitz for a 2-0 Sounders lead.
Cristian Roldan capped all the scoring Wednesday with his first career goal in the 73rd minute.
“It was good to get … a comfortable win,” Schmid said.