SEATTLE — The intent was for Clint Dempsey to go 65 or 70 minutes and not push too hard in his return from the World Cup rejoining the Seattle Sounders.
Dempsey didn’t want an abbreviated appearance. Not against Portland. Not in front of another massive crowd.
Dempsey scored off a wild scramble in the 71st minute, and the Sounders beat rival Portland 2-0 on Sunday night, their second victory over the Timbers in four days.
After getting a week to rejuvenate following the U.S. being eliminated, Dempsey was ready. He was subbed off in the final seconds, but his influence was made.
“I only had a week off, so it wasn’t like I lost too much fitness and I felt good,” Dempsey said. “I was just glad to play a part helping the team win and just excited to get back playing with this team.”
Dempsey’s goal finished a lengthy buildup of pressure by the Sounders.
Dempsey and Obafemi Martins were both denied by Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts earlier in the sequence with sprawling kick saves. The ball eventually landed at the feet of Gonzalo Pineda and his diagonal pass found Dempsey open in front of the net for his first goal with Seattle since April 26 against Colorado. Dempsey was kept onside on the play by Portland’s Will Johnson.
Martins and Dempsey did not play in Seattle’s 3-1 extra-time win over Portland in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals earlier this week. Having a pair of fresh legs leading Seattle’s attack was noticeable in the second half.
“It really gave us a lot of problems when (Martins) and Dempsey went up top,” Johnson said. “It was a tough matchup that we did our best to contain. But eventually, they broke us down.”
Marco Pappa added his second goal of the season in the 86th minute on a counter attack moments after Portland’s Gaston Fernandez hit the outside of the goalpost with his attempt. It was Pappa’s second goal this week against the Timbers after scoring the final tally in the U.S. Open Cup victory.
Dempsey’s return after two months away for World Cup duty came before a crowd of 64,207, just shy of a sellout at CenturyLink Field. It was the only visit to Seattle this season by the Timbers and Seattle moved 10 points clear of second-place Real Salt Lake in the MLS Western Conference with the victory.
While there lacked the fireworks of the 4-4 draw the sides played in Portland in early April, there was plenty of chances in the final 45 minutes and most of them coming at Seattle’s offensive end.
Ricketts was tested repeatedly, including the second minute of the second half on a shot by Pineda. He smothered multiple shot attempts by Lamar Neagle and denied Dempsey off a quick throw-in in the 55th minute when the United States captain tried to sneak a right-footed shot past Ricketts.
But Ricketts could only watch as Dempsey scored his ninth goal of the season, including four coming against the Timbers. Dempsey scored a hat trick during the first matchup in April.
Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei was rarely challenged, but came up with a key pair of saves three minutes into the second half. He first blocked Steve Zakuani’s shot from the top of the penalty area, then deflected the rebound attempt by Fanendo Adi.
Portland is now winless in its last four matches.
“End of the day, you have to credit Seattle, that’s why they’re at the top of the table,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said.