SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders are finally on the board.
Clint Dempsey headed in a corner kick in the 79th minute, and the Sounders earned their first victory of the MLS season by defeating the Montreal Impact 1-0 Saturday night at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle opened the season with three consecutive defeats for the first time in the franchise’s nine-year history, and with the international break arriving the Sounders were forced to stew on their sluggish start for an extra week. But now Seattle is no longer the lone team in the league without a point.
“It feels great,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said about finally getting a win. “Obviously we had some results that didn’t go our way. But we still believed in our ability that we have in this locker room. I think from front to back, defensively and offensively, technically in the middle, we have it all. We’re confident in ourselves, and I think we have enough veterans to know that and not start to panic. It’s great to finally get some points and get on the board.”
The Sounders (1-3) rang the changes up front Saturday in response to their slow start, which saw Seattle score just two goals in its first three games. Dempsey moved into a central midfield role from the wide forward spot he played in the first three games. Meanwhile, much-heralded young forward Jordan Morris, fresh off his gut-wrenching stint with the U.S. under-23 national team in which the U.S. failed to qualify for the Olympics, was left out of the starting lineup in favor of Aaron Kovar.
The changes didn’t exactly set Seattle’s offense alight, as the Sounders created few clear-cut chances following a breathtaking opening five minutes. However, it was still enough to get Seattle in the win column.
“I was pleased with our team,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “I thought we came out in the first 20 minutes and played really well. I thought we jumped on them pretty good. We’ve still got to get to the point where when we’re dominating a period of time like that we have to finish some goals, which will make life easier for us.
“We brought Clint inside so we’d have a little more variety,” Schmid added. “We wanted to attack a little more centrally and not just through the wings only, and I think we succeeded at that. But we certainly still need to get better. I think our ability to keep possession in the final third has gotten better from week to week, but we need to get better in terms of finishing.”
Montreal (2-2) played without striker Didier Drogba. Drogba, the former star for the Ivory Coast national team and Chelsea in the English Premier League, scored 11 goals in 11 games last season for the Impact. However, he created a bit of a stir by saying he will not play on artificial surfaces this season, such as that at CenturyLink Field. Without Drogba the Impact offered little threat as the Sounders did a good job preventing playmaker Ignacio Piatta, who came into the game with three goals and two assists in Montreal’s first three games, from being a factor.
“Obviously Drogba is an important player on our team,” Montreal coach Mauro Biello said. “He brings a different dynamic to this club. With Didi up top holding up balls for us it makes a big difference, especially the way we want to play and the attention he’s going to pull when he plays. We’ve accepted that fact and now it’s about moving forward and he’ll be ready the next couple weeks.”
For much of the game it appeared Seattle’s offense was going to be stymied the same way it was in its first three games. But in the 79th minute the Sounders finally found the breakthrough. Seattle received a corner kick on the right, with Andreas Ivanschitz hitting an in swinger to the far post. Dempsey rose above the fray, headed the ball down, and it bounded past Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush and into the corner to give the Sounders the lead.
Montreal, which seemed content to play for a draw to that point, upped the pressure in the closing minutes, with Johan Venegas producing a pair of shots that threatened Seattle’s goal. However, it was the Sounders who seemed more likely to add to their lead, with substitute Oalex Anderson twice spurning golden opportunities to kill off the game.
Seattle started the game brightly. The Sounders took the opening kick and worked the ball up the field, setting up a chance from in close for Nelson Valdez less than 30 seconds into the contest, which was blocked by the defense. Then in the fourth minute Kovar found himself with space at the edge of the penalty box and ripped a shot that blazed just over the crossbar.
The game settled down after that, with the most dangerous opportunity coming after Bush was whistled for picking up a back pass in the 39th minute. The Sounders took the free kick quickly, but Bush recovered well to claim the cross, and the game remained scoreless going into halftime.
Dempsey nearly gave Seattle the lead in the 64th minute when his free kick from 27 yards out was punched over the crossbar by Bush. But Dempsey and the Sounders eventually had the last laugh.
Seattle welcomed captain Brad Evans back to the lineup. The central defender missed the past two games because of a shoulder injury. … New Sounders signing Herculez Gomez, a former U.S. international forward, was in the matchday squad for the first time as he was on the bench. He did not enter the game. … Seattle left back Joevin Jones, who arrived back a day late from international duty with Trinidad and Tobago, began the game on the bench, with Dylan Remick taking his place in the starting lineup. Remnick had to be substituted in the 74th minute because of cramps, with Jones taking his place. … Sounders right back Tyrone Mears, who hails from England, was granted his green card this week. That frees up an international roster spot for Seattle.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/seattlesidelines, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.