By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders have made a long climb to within two points of the top of the Major League Soccer standings, so they have no problem accepting a break or two along the way.
The Sounders received a stroke of good fortune in the closing minutes Saturday at CenturyLink Field, as they beat the Chicago Fire, 2-1, with the help of a late own-goal.
The clubs were tied in the 89th minute, when Zach Scott sent pass in front of the Chicago goal where defender Gonzalo Segares knocked it into his own net.
But coach Sigi Schmid noted that his team made its own luck.
“Zach makes a great run at the end, puts that ball into a dangerous position,” he said. “We always talk about hitting those balls low across the box behind the defenders and you never know what happens: It goes in off a defender, it goes in off of one of our guys. Who knows? Obviously, that’s what he did.”
The result was the fourth straight win for the Sounders (14-8-4) and seventh in their last eight matches. That moved them past Los Angeles and into second place in the MLS Western Conference, two points behind league-leading Real Salt Lake, their next opponent.
“Certainly next Friday, for our fans, is going to be an absolutely massive game,” Schmid said. “When you look at it right now, it’s a game for first place. … Hopefully, we can do what we did against Portland and sell this place out again and fill it up, because it’s a game you don’t want to miss.”
The Sounders set the stage with the win over Chicago (10-11-5), and they had to come from behind to do it.
The Fire opened the scoring in the 25th minute, as Mike Magee got behind the Seattle defense and beat goalkeeper Michael Gspurning to the far post. It was Magee’s 15th goal of the season, matching Montreal’s Macro Di Vaio for the MLS lead. It also ended Seattle’s 310-minute shutout streak.
The Sounders had a chance to draw even in the 31st minute, but Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson managed to bat away an Osvaldo Alonso penalty kick.
However, Seattle got one past Johnson nine minutes later. The play began with a cross into the box by Mauro Rosales. Johnson batted it away, but midfielder Marc Burch sent it back in front of the goal where Lamar Neagle one-touched it into the net.
It was Neagle’s seventh goal of the season, pulling him even with club-leaders Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson.
“I saw Burch wrapping back around. I was just standing in the mix of things,” Neagle said. “And as soon as I saw him touch it, I darted in front of the defender and just barely got a touch to it.”
The assist was Burch’s third of the season – matching his career high – with all three coming over the last four games.
“Sigi wants me to be more aggressive,” he said. “I try to do what I can to help the team win. It’s a different role than defending the lead and stuff like that. It’s trying to get some goals, and hopefully I’ve done that.”
Martins returned to the lineup after missing four games with an ankle sprain. He said he surprised even himself by going 90 minutes. Along the way, he took four shots and put two on goal.
“It’s good to be back,” he said. “It was a little difficult for me because I didn’t train for like three weeks, but it’s all good. I just want to play and help the team as usual.”
With Seattle playing its third game in eight days, Schmid also went in search of fresh legs and penciled Andy Rose into the lineup for the first time since July 3. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado started as a central defender, his 100th regular-season appearance with the club.
The win extended Seattle’s record home unbeaten streak to 12 games (9-0-3). The Fire also remained the only MLS club to whom the Sounders have never lost (5-0-3).