It was a tale of two comebacks Saturday night at CenturyLink Field.
The Sounders (8-5-6) held off Colorado’s frenetic push in the waning moments while welcoming the return of midfielder Steve Zakuani in a 2-1 win over the Rapids (7-10-1), breaking their nine-game winless streak with a pair of second-half goals.
Sidelined 15 months after Colorado’s Brian Mullan broke his right leg with a gruesome slide tackle in April 2011, Zakuani entered in the 86th minute of Saturday’s match with his club clinging to a one-goal lead.
“Tactically it wasn’t the right decision,” head coach Sigi Schmid of his choice to insert Zakuani after Colorado’s potential equalizer was disallowed moments earlier, thanks to an offsides infraction. “But I wanted to get (Zakuani) in the park, get him some minutes. I thought it worked out well. It’s been a long time and that was good for it to happen to him.”
The highlight came post-match when Zakuani and Mullan exchanged jerseys and hugged, bringing closure to one of the most reckless episodes in Sounder history, which provoked a lot of fan anger toward Mullan in his two visits since the tackle.
In stoppage time, Rapids midfielder Martin Rivero nearly tied the game again with a blast from just outside the box that skimmed over the crossbar. The strike marked Colorado’s last scoring chance on a night the Sounders snapped their worst stretch in franchise history.
“It’s big,” Schmid said of his team’s first MLS win in more than two months. “I think now we’re on a three-game undefeated streak, right? Statistics, you can turn them around any way you want to and make it appear you’re brilliant. For us, it was important to get back home and get the win. I thought our team at times showed very well.”
In the 52nd minute, midfielder Alvaro Fernandez scored his first goal of the year by heading a high arcing corner from Mauro Rosales into the back of the net to give the Sounders a 1-0 lead. The goal by “El Flaco” goal marked the first time in the past 10 games Seattle scored first.
Twelve minutes later, Rosales struck again, carving a masterful pass across the box that Seattle forward Eddie Johnson headed past Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Johnson immediately drew a yellow card for excessive celebration when he ripped off his jersey and slammed it on the ground while the Emerald City Supporters went berserk.
The oft-temperamental forward said after the win his rapport with Rosales continues to improve.
“I think Mauro and I are starting to build a good relationship,” Johnson said. “You know when he has the ball out wide, hes going to do one thing–hes going to whip the ball in the box. I just wanted to be alert and be dangerous in the box when the ball comes in and I was able to get on the end of it.
Seattle appeared on its way to victory late in the match before substitute Colorado forward Omar Cummings slammed a ball past Sounders’ goalkeeper Bryan Meredith in the 79th minute.
“The last fifteen, twenty minutes of the game became pretty hectic. We were in a little bit of a scrape,” Schmid said after his club narrowly avoided a second consecutive frustrating draw.
Seattle out-shot Colorado 14-6 and held a 10-2 advantage on corners while franchise player Fredy Montero spent the first 72 minutes on the bench. The win moved the Sounders to 6-1-1 in their past eight meetings with Colorado, pushing their home winning streak over their Western Conference rivals to five games.
“It was nice to get those three points,” Schmid said. “I guess the rumors of our demise were a little bit premature. As long as we keep fighting and battling and being a tough team to beat our soccer will get back to what it was.”
While the head coach admitted the win could prove big in righting his club’s season, there was little doubt who the night belonged to.
“There honestly was a time when I thought I would never play football again,” Zakuani said after being treated to a raucous ovation from the 39,060 in attendance. “To be back there was, for me, the biggest achievement.”