In a season where points have not come easy for Seattle, the Sounders earned three points Sunday to pull within five of the final playoff spot.
Better late than never, right?
Designated player Nicolas Lodeiro recorded his first goal with the club and added an assist in the first half, and the Sounders overcame two blunders in the late stages to prevail, 2-1, over Real Salt Lake in front of 39,491 at CenturyLink Field.
“This is the route we want to be taking to start getting three points each game,” Lodeiro said through an interpreter. “So this is the beginning of more.”
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Seattle is undefeated in the last three games and has won the last two — just the second time they’ve won back-to-back games this season.
“A really, really good first half,” defender Brad Evans said. “(We) came out with a lot of bite. Credit to (RSL). … It’s difficult when you have a lead and you’re playing against a good team, they’re not in third place for no reason. … but we held strong, aside from the one goal.”
The Sounders wasted no time getting the offense going in the early going.
In the 18th minute, RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando mishandled a Lodeiro cross from a set piece. The ball dropped inside the six-yard box, falling in front of an open net — before RSL’s Luke Mulholland cleared it out for a corner.
Then Lodeiro’s touches turned to gold.
Andreas Ivanschitz delivered a cross into the middle of the 18-yard box for a streaking Lodeiro, who scored off a lefty first-touch finish in the 18th minute.
In the 37th, the Sounders struck again, this time Jordan Morris scoring on a header from a cross from Lodeiro.
Seattle went into halftime with a lead, but an RSL lineup change provided a second-half spark. Yura Movsisyan, Salt Lake’s leading scorer who had been out since July 22, subbed in at forward to start the second.
“They came out in the first 10 to 15 minutes in the second half,” Schmetzer said, “and really it was hard for us to get the game back. I’m sure (RSL coach Jeff Cassar) let his team have it at halftime, and you saw the result of that. Sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due.”
In the 60th minute, RSL’s Kyle Beckerman took advantage on the counter and played Movsisyan through into the Sounders’ third. Frei closed in and made a well-timed sliding save.
Two minute later, Frei made a game-altering blunder.
As he was rolling a pass to defender Joevin Jones, he gave the ball up to Movsisyan, who had slipped out of Frei’s vision. Movsisyan drew Frei even further out of position before dealing the ball to Joao Plata, who scored to bring RSL within one.
“It’s a lifeline for them,” Frei said. “Even if they find a second goal to tie it up and it’s a wonder strike, upper V, and I have no chance, that goal is kind of on me too because I gave them the lifeline.”
Seattle, however, stayed in attack mode.
In the 82nd minute, the Sounders were gifted a chance to cushion their lead.
Salt Lake’s Justen Glad fouled Cristian Roldan in the box, which drew a penalty kick for Seattle.
Clint Dempsey’s attempt hit the bar, and then committed a foul to end the scrum that ensued
Schmetzer spoke on the difference between the Sounders now as opposed to a month ago.
“I think the team needed something,” Schmetzer said, “whether it was change, whether it was the same coach with a different message, whether they just for themselves figured out that they are in this for themselves. They do the hard work, people congratulate me when I’m walking off the field, I don’t know why. They should be congratulating the players because they’re the ones that put in the effort and hard work every day in training and in games like today. You saw their body language after the game — they were tired. I’m not so sure it’s one certain thing, but I do believe it’s their group mentality that makes them play the way they are playing now.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
Seattle finished with 18 total shots, opposite Salt Lake’s nine, and was led by Lodeiro’s game-high six created chances.
The Sounders stay home to host the regional rival Portland Timbers on August 21 at 6:30 p.m., who they now are within five points of in the standings. Sixth-place Portland got the best of Seattle, 3-1, at Providence Park on July 17, their only prior meeting this season.