An old motto for the Seattle Sounders used to be: Give us your full 90.
Sometimes, though, 90 minutes isn’t enough.
With a dramatic goal in stoppage time, the Sounders on Saturday opened their 2014 Major League Soccer season with a 1-0 win over defending MLS Cup champ Sporting Kansas City.
They gave their fans, a record home-opening crowd of more than 39,000, a full 94 minutes of the kind of effort that can slingshot a team toward a positive season.
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“One of the things we talked about going into the season, we were going to be the kind of team that would fight and scratch and do everything we can till the very end of the game,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think this is a good snapshot of that.”
Relying on the transfusion of new blood on the roster, the scrappy Sounders didn’t settle for what seemed destined to finish a nil-nil draw but scored on a Chad Barrett clean-up after Clint Dempsey barely missed a header into the crossbar.
As is always the case with Kansas City, it was a physical contest, with K.C.’s 25 fouls the most ever by a Sounders opponent.
Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, for instance, took an elbow to the chops that left him checking his teeth.
“Yeah, I was counting them,” he said. “You’ve always got to prepare for a battle. At the end of the day, we got the three points and we’re very happy for that.”
It was the fans’ first look at a reconfigured Sounders roster that for the most part impressed.
New goal keeper Stefan Frei finished with a shutout. Forward Kenny Cooper, at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, provides a physical presence up front and had two near-miss shots.
And it was Schmid’s second-half subbing of fresh legs at the scoring positions that fueled the Sounders’ late rally. Dempsey, Barrett and Sean Okoli kept the pressure on the Kansas City half of the field in the closing minutes.
And after Dempsey barely missed his header, Barrett wiggled in and scored the winner.
Dempsey might still be jet-lagged from appearing in a U.S. national team game in Cyprus this week. But it’s clear his head was in the game.
“It was good to play a part in the goal,” Dempsey said. “I was happy for Chad to get his first goal with the new team.”
Dempsey got credit for the assist, but he passed the credit along to another source.
“The fans were awesome today in the cold and rain,” Dempsey said. “They really pushed us on and helped us keep playing until the last minute, and (they) played a part in the goal, as well.”
A labor dispute locking out the regular MLS referees forced this game to be officiated by replacements. Schmid said he detected no negative consequences to their appearance.
But, in the spirit of Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, it’s worth remembering that Seattle teams have a good history of dramatic game-winning plays in front of replacement refs.
In an interview this week, Sounders captain Brad Evans recalled times in the past when the team didn’t always summon the degree of intensity needed to win close games, or didn’t finish emphatically when the issue was in doubt.
“It’s something we talked about, staying together and working and fighting and biting and not complaining or moaning and working until the 90th minute,” Evans said. “If we do that, the results will come our way.”
Actually, Brad, it took 94 minutes to see the results on Saturday.
But that only made it more impressive.
“It sets a great tone when you have a dramatic victory like this,” Schmid said. “It just pumps everybody up.”