By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — Clint Dempsey really wanted to make his home debut with the Seattle Sounders a memorable one.
I mean, he really tried to make something special happen.
Did you see Dempsey throw himself into the air to try a crazy scissor kick in front of the goal in the 70th minute? Or how about when, just a few minutes later, he tried a bicycle kick from long range? And then there was all the fancy footwork, the no-look pass, and a whole bunch of other moments that made it pretty clear that the U.S. national team captain was well aware of the enormity of this night.
Dempsey wanted to make his mark so bad, but in the end it was his old friend Eddie Johnson provided the moment of the night, heading home the game’s only goal to give the Sounders a 1-0 victory over the rival Portland Timbers in front of a franchise record crowd of 67,385 at CenturyLink Field.
“Yeah, I tried some stuff,” Dempsey said with a laugh. “I had like a little ninja kick trying to put the ball in, wasn’t able to get that. Had a bicycle that was on goal. I had a header cleared off the line, I had a shot the keeper saved for a corner. Had a bit of a heavy touch in the first half that I’d like to have back — could have done a little better with that. … But all in all I’m getting good looks, it’s only a matter of time before the goals and assists start coming. But I’m happy with the touches I’m getting, and more importantly, I’m happy with the way the team played and performed in getting three points.”
Yet as Dempsey notes, even if he didn’t have the perfect debut, the night couldn’t have gone much better. Yes the largest crowd in franchise history would have loved to make CenturyLink Field shake after a Dempsey goal, but nobody — save for a couple thousand Timbers fans who made the trip north — went home unhappy. The Sounders got the victory, made up ground in the standings, and as Sounders lifer Zach Scott noted, notched another victory over their hated rivals.
While this night was all about Dempsey, it might have been the most meaningful to Scott, a career grinder whose career has been as unglamorous as Dempsey’s has been spectacular. Scott was making his first start since July 20 and it was his 27th appearance against the Timbers going back to when the franchises’ USL days.
“I’m positive the majority of those are wins,” Scott said. “I told the guys before the game, this career is so fleeting. There is so much uncertainty day-to-day whether you’re in the lineup, whether you have a job next year, but the one thing I know for certain is that we beat Portland, period. We’re always going to be the team to beat. They can say there’s a changing of the guard, they can say we’re a group of stars and they’re the team, but in the end we’re the ones who are going to come out victorious.”
Of course for the record crowd, which was the third largest soccer crowd in the world this weekend, trailing only a pair of games in Germany’s Bundesliga, to go home happy, the Sounders had be what Scott described: the team that beats Portland, and for much of the night that result was very much in doubt. After both teams failed to capitalize on numerous first-half chances, Johnson finally broke through in the 60th minute when he redirected a Mauro Rosales free kick into the net. The goal was Johnson’s fourth in five games against Portland.
“I like to play in big games,” Johnson said. “We know how much it means to our fans, we know how much it means to this organization. For a player at the end of the day you want to step up in big games, you want to show your value.”
Johnson showed his value with that one run through the box and leaping header, Dempsey showed his with world-class skill, though even that ninja kick couldn’t net a goal — “If it went in, I’d have liked it, but it didn’t, so I didn’t like it,” Johnson joked of the effort” — and most significantly on another memorable night in the franchise’s history, a record crowd showed that it can still produce goose bump-inducing moments.
“Incredible,” said midfielder Brad Evans, who has been with the club since its 2009 inaugural season. “You’re always asked questions about those games you remember, and obviously this will be one of them. It’s probably the most emotional I’ve been before a game for sure. Sometimes I walk out with my head down, but this one I was like, ‘you need to lift your head and take a good look around and soak it in, because you never know if this is going to happen again.’”
Dempsey’s debut didn’t end up being all about him as much as it did being a celebration of another special night for a franchise that has produced so many of them, and about a team trying to use a win over its biggest rival to spark a late-season surge.
“I don’t care if I score at all,” Dempsey said. “As long as we keep winning, that’s the most important thing.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.