By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders’ 1-0 win over Chivas USA on Wednesday pushed them to the top of Major League Soccer in points per game.
It also drew them even with Los Angeles for second place in the Western Conference, with a game in hand.
And it also said a lot about the Sounders’ depth, as they pulled off the victory despite the absence of stars and starters such as Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson (U.S. national team duty), Obafemi Martins, Brad Evans, Shalrie Joseph, Steve Zakuani (injury) and Leo Gonzalez (red card suspension).
“Certainly some guys I think stepped up today,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “David Estrada hadn’t played in a long time, and he stepped up with a really good effort. … (Marc) Burch is a guy who has had to play a lot of left midfield for us because we’ve been short people there — he stepped up and played well. We needed Zach (Scott) to go to outside back because we tried to keep more veterans on the field, and he came on and did well. You always want to have a team that has good depth.”
All of the absences had been known in advance with the exception of Martins, whom the Sounders had hoped would be able to help compensate for the loss of forwards Dempsey and Johnson. However, Martins’ sprained ankle failed a pregame fitness test, and he was ruled unavailable for a fourth straight game.
With the Sounders’ top three forwards unavailable, Schmid moved Lamar Neagle from midfield to forward, and he responded with the game-winning goal.
That one came in the 24th minute, when Burch launched a free kick in front of the Chivas goal, where Neagle took a touch off his hip and then side-kicked the ball past goalkeeper Dan Kennedy from about 5 yards.
“The ball dropped right in my lap — literally,” Neagle said. “It dropped right over somebody’s head. It was kind of unexpected. I took a bad touch, but I ended up being able to get my foot up high enough to get (the ball) down.”
It was Neagle’s sixth goal of the season, a career high and one behind club co-leaders Martins and Johnson.
“Lamar has been great for us,” Schmid said. “… When the opportunity came he seized it, and he’s obviously done well. He’s obviously a very influential player for us this year.”
Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning and the Seattle defense made that goal stand up, as they recorded their third consecutive shutout.
“It’s been an absolutely great team effort, and of course as a goalkeeper I like it very much,” Gspurning said. “It’s the way we want to create a momentum that makes it tough to score on us. We’ve achieved this now in three games, and that’s a good thing.”
The win moved the Sounders record to 13-8-4, good for a league-high 1.72 ppg. Chivas fell to 5-15-7.
The result also extended several streaks for Seattle: five straight wins over Chivas; unbeaten (4-0-2) against Chivas at home; unbeaten (7-0-4) over 11 straight games versus Chivas; a league best 6-1-1 since July 20; unbeaten (8-0-3) over the last 11 home games overall, and a league-high streak of 37-0-8 when scoring the first goal.
“It’s good that we have a positive run, but nobody forgot about the start of the season,” Gspurning said. “We took our lessons. We know this is hard work to get back here. We fighted back after this bad start. Of course, if there is a chance to take (Supporters Shield) we want to take it.”
The game was played before a crowd of 38,317 at CenturyLink Field — Seattle’s smallest home crowd of the season. The match originally had been scheduled for April 7 and was moved to accommodate the early season CONCACAF Champions League schedule.
The Sounders’ three-game homestand continues Saturday when the Chicago Fire visit. Schmid said Martins’ status is day-to-day and therefore unsettled for the weekend match.