By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
SEATTLE — One point separates the Seattle Sounders and the New York Red Bulls in the MLS standings, and nothing at all separated them Sunday night at CenturyLink Field.
The clubs played to a rain-drenched 1-1 draw that kept New York atop the Supporters Shield race while denying Seattle an early ticket to the playoffs.
“Anytime at home when we don’t win, we think it’s two points lost — this game or any other game,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “But for us you could look at it as a point gained, because they hit the post a couple of times and we could have had zero.”
The match played out with two very different halves. Seattle took the lead and had its best additional chances in the first half. New York equalized and had its best additional chances in the second.
The Sounders’ scoring sequence began in the 44th minute, when New York defender Markus Holgersson was called for a hand ball in the penalty area. The Red Bulls disputed the call by referee Kevin Stott, but it stood.
Brad Evans took the penalty kick, beating Luis Robles low into the side netting. It was Evans’ fourth goal this season, and he is now 7-for-7 in his career on penalty kicks.
“I always feel comfortable stepping up there,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep it going and pick my spot and get it there.”
But while Evans took advantage of his chance, the Sounders went to the locker room regretting missed opportunities, especially one by Obafemi Martins.
“We had some chances for sure,” Schmid said. “Probably the best was when Eddie slipped past Robles near the edge of the 18 and crossed the ball, and Oba headed it wide. Obviously, we put that one in, I think that changes the complexion of the game.”
The opportunities shifted New York’s way in the second half. In the 61st minute, Holgersson put a shot off the crossbar. A minute later, Fabian Espindola hit the far post. In the 68th minute, Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning made a sliding save on a breakaway by Espindola.
In the 76th minute, New York broke through after the ball bounced around free in the penalty area before Tim Cahill got to it and curved it into the far netting.
“We didn’t have our best game, and that’s the result,” Gspurning said. “They definitely deserved the point. It’s not a good result for us. It’s one point at least, but we know that we can play better soccer.”
The game was played in steady rain and gusty wind.
“This weather was possibly the best thing that could’ve happened to us, to be honest with you,” New York coach Mike Petke said. “Any type of disruption — although they are used to it here — but any time you can make the conditions and environment a bit ugly like this, you’ll take it.”
Both teams played without their best-known stars. Sounders designated player Clint Dempsey was held out with a lingering hamstring issue. Meanwhile, New York DP Thierry Henry remained in New York to avoid the wear and tear he perceives from the FieldTurf surface.
New York moved to 15-9-7, and its 52 points are the most in MLS. Seattle (15-8-6) remains one point behind the Red Bulls and even with Real Salt Lake atop the Western Conference. A Sounders victory would have assured a spot in the playoffs, but now they will have to wait at least until Saturday when they visit the Colorado Rapids.
“There’s no reason to panic,” Schmid said. “We still have the games in hand. I know we’ve got some tough games coming up … but we’ve been put in tough situations before, and we’ve met them; and we’ve just got to stand up and meet them again.”