Sounders FC

Sounders open West semis with 2-1 win


The Seattle Sounders won a playoff game Sunday after Clint Dempsey won a negotiation.

The Sounders were level with FC Dallas in the 86th minute of their Western Conference semifinal opener at CenturyLink Field when Seattle was awarded a free kick.

There — about 23 yards from the Dallas goal — stood Dempsey and Andreas Ivanschitz, talking.

“Just trying to figure out who’s going to take it,” Dempsey explained. “… ‘What are you thinking?’ ‘How are you feeling?’ I’m saying ‘I feel good, I want to take it.’ He let me have it.”

Dempsey sent an arrow of a shot inside the near post, and that proved the margin of victory as Seattle took a 2-1 win in the first leg of the playoff home-and-home.

“I haven’t really scored on a free kick this year,” Dempsey said. “I’ve hit the post a few times; the keeper made a good save in the Houston game. So it was an important time and a good time to get one, so it felt good.”

The series will resolve at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in Frisco, Texas. The Sounders will advance to the conference final with a win, a draw or any one-goal loss in which they score at least two goals.

“We’re going to go to win there,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “When you go to win, then sometimes you come out with a tie. If you go for a tie, sometimes you go out with a loss. So we’re going to go to win. And if a tie is the end result, we’ll be happy with that.”

The game began cautiously on both sides. But things picked up with a series of lightning strikes around the 18th minute. The flurry started with a Dallas charge into the attacking end. The Sounders countered that, with Obafemi Martins sending a pass to Dempsey in the penalty area, where he went down without drawing a whistle. Dallas launched a counter of their own, this time down the left side with Mauro Diaz finding Fabian Castillo behind the Sounders defense. With the Hoops’ goals leader running at him, Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei came off his line only to have Castillo fire past him.

“With a guy like Castillo, you’re just hanging on for the ride,” veteran defender Zach Scott said. “He’s so good that all you can hope is to get there quickly and double. On his goal I thought we were in a position that we were going to double, but in hindsight I probably should have taken a couple of steps back and just played it as safely as possible.”

In a series where road goals serve as the tie-breaker, the visitor’s early goal was a double dagger to Seattle. So the Sounders began pushing forward more aggressively, and had several good chances. The breakthrough finally came in the 67th minute with Ivanschitz’s solo run down the left side and a solid finish.

“It was a situation where I won the ball and I just saw the empty space and I kept going,” he said.

That goal figured into that conversation at the top of the penalty area 19 minutes later. Dempsey knew Ivanschitz was feeling confident from that earlier score. But still, Dempsey asked for the chance — and then made the most of it.

“The second half was certainly better than the first,” Schmid said. “But even at the end of the first half — after 20 minutes — I thought we started to take the game to them. We got caught on the counterattack goal, but I’m really proud of our team … our effort. Obviously a wonderful free kick goal, and a great run by Ivanschitz.”

The Sounders played without would-be starters Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans and Leo Gonzalez due to lingering injuries. Designated player Nelson Valdez isn’t yet fully fit and came off the bench in the 62nd minute.