McClatchy News Services
BRIDGEVIEW, ILL. — Obafemi Martins staked the Seattle Sounders to a two-goal lead in the first half, but he wasn’t around at the end as Seattle escaped Toyota Park with a 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire.
The Sounders led 2-0 and 3-1. But both times their lead grew to two goals, Chicago rookie-of-the-year candidate Harrison Shipp was there to halve the lead.
Along the way, Martins matched Clint Dempsey for the club lead with his seventh and eighth goals of the season. But he also picked up a red card just before halftime for what referee Chris Penso ruled was “striking an opponent in the head.”
Both teams played the second half with 10 men, as Chicago defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who played the previous five seasons with Seattle, was sent off in the 37th minute with his second yellow card.
“I thought we made the game harder than we needed to make it,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “Obviously we are in a good position with a two-goal lead playing a man up, and then we get a man thrown out. At that point, we gave up a goal, you know, I think Shipp took both his goals really well … but they were plays we should have stopped a bit earlier. Hats off to him and his finishes, so it made the game tight.”
The victory sends Seattle into Major League Soccer’s World Cup break with the best record in the league: 10-3-2. With 32 points through 15 games, they are on pace for 72 points over the 34-game season, which would be an MLS record.
Chicago fell to 2-4-8 and remains the only MLS team never to have beaten the Sounders.
As wild as the game eventually became, its first 30 minutes played out scorelessly. The best chance came early as Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson raced to the top of the penalty box, but missed his try for the ball. It rolled deep into the penalty area, where Martins caught up to it, but he shot wide across the open goalmouth.
However, Martins connected in the 31st minute when he took a deflected Brad Evans’ pass with his back to the goal, turned and fired from about 8 yards.
Martins’ next goal came on the penalty kick following the foul that sent Hurtado from the match.
Shipp answered about three minutes later, working his way between defenders Chad Marshall and Evans.
Lamar Neagle gave the Sounders breathing room again in the 78th minute with his fifth goal of the season. He patiently waited for a high-bouncing ball, then touched it into position and fired past Johnson.
“It has been something I’ve been trying to do a little bit more, have some composure in the box, that kind of show,” Neagle said. “When it was coming down, I did want to hit it first time, but it wasn’t bouncing right. I didn’t want to rush it: got it down and then tried to curl it in the back.”
Shipp answered again four minutes later. However, the Fire couldn’t get an equalizer past Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who recorded three saves.
“Obviously their third goal killed the game a little bit,” Chicago coach Frank Yallop said.
The Sounders will have most of this week off. They return to training on Saturday (June 14) in advance of their June 18 entry into U.S. Open Cup.
Their next MLS match will come June 28 at D.C. United. Martins will miss that game unless his card is rescinded.