Following a sluggish seasonal start that saw them win once in their first seven matches, the Sounders have won three in a row after a convincing, 4-2 win over Western Conference-leading FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field Saturday night.
FC Dallas (7-2-3) came into the match with an MLS-leading nine-game undefeated streak, and still owns a five-point lead over Portland. Seattle (4-3-3) jumped from eighth into a sixth-place tie with San Jose with the win.
Following a 4-0 win over San Jose, the Sounders’ newly proficient offense has eight goals in the last two matches. It took the Sounders eight matches to reach that total at the start of the season.
“Right now we’re starting to find our rhythm,” said Eddie Johnson, who scored twice. “We couldn’t have asked for a better team, who’s been hot all year, to come here and really challenge us as a team and see where we are.
“Tonight we showed our true character. Even going up 2-0, then conceding two goals, we really put them on our terms from start to finish, and when we got our chances in the second half, we put them away.”
Johnson, called up this week to play for the U.S. in World Cup qualifiers in June, scored in the 15th minute after FC Dallas goalie Raul Fernandez sent a goal kick to midfield, where Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso headed it back toward the Dallas goal. Johnson outran two defenders sent the right-footer home inside the far post.
Midfielder Lamar Neagle put the Sounders up 2-0 in the 30th minute after he slipped behind the Dallas defense, juked Fernandez to the ground, and tapped the ball in with his left foot. Neagle started for the second consecutive game after scoring twice against San Jose the past Saturday.
Minutes before Neagle’s third goal in two games, Alonso pulled up lame with an injury that coach Sigi Schmid after the game termed a strained adductor muscle.
Both teams failed to capitalize on promising scoring opportunities late in the first half. But Dallas took advantage early in the second half. In the 54th, forward Michel sent a deep free kick into the box. Seattle’s defense left Kenny Cooper wide open inside the penalty box to head in his third goal of the season.
Seattle’s lead vanished six minutes later. Michel wrapped a perfectly placed corner kick over the head of goalie Michael Gspurning and inside the far post.
But Johnson and the Sounders did not let the crowd of 38,979 chew their nails long.
One minute later, Johnson used a pump-fake to get Fernandez to the ground again and gave the Sounders the lead for good from the corner of the penalty area.
Dallas nearly tied the game again a minute later, but defender Djimi Traore threw his body in front of a rocket from the top of the box to preserve the lead. Traore winced in pain after being pegged. Seattle took control after the Traore save.
In the 71st minute Dallas captain Blas Perez was handed a red card after elbowing defender Leo Gonzalez in the face, attempting to head a free ball. The elbow, which was deemed to have been intentional but was heavily challenged by Dallas, cut deep above Gonzalez’s right eye and left his face covered in blood, forcing the defender from the game.
“This is a tough environment for anyone to come into,” said Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman. “If it’s not a game that’s controlled, and there’s a lot of stuff going off the ball and a lot of physical play, I don’t know if that brings the best out of our team. I don’t know that we ever got on track.”
Obafemi Martins put the game away with Seattle’s fourth goal in the 82nd minute. Johnson’s hat trick attempt was blocked but midfielder Brad Evans corralled the rebound and found the wide-open Martins, who finished the play.
Seattle continues MLS play next Sunday at the Los Angeles Galaxy on national television (ESPN2).