As far as national-TV optics, the ESPN suits couldn’t have asked for better — on the day the World Cup ended an entertaining run in Brazil, soccer transitioned back to the U.S. Sunday night to a racous stadium of 64,207 for a regular-season Major League Soccer match bathed in intensity, tifos and a glorious sunset. One Copacabana beach short of the real deal.
As far as local emotions, fans couldn’t have asked for better either — the Sounders beat the Timbers for a second time in five days, and Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins got back together and scared the bejeezus out of the rest of the MLS.
As far as Sigi Schmid, a native of World Cup champion Germany, the day was superb.
“I am very happy,” said the beaming Sounders coach, his club 10 points clear of second-place Salt Lake in the Western Conference standings. “I am very, very happy. It was a great day.”
The 2-0 triumph easily could have been 6-0, given the second-half pounding delivered to valiant Timbers goalie Donovan Ricketts, who fended off shots with nearly every body part before finally succumbing to Dempsey in the 71st minute.
Off a set piece, Martins and Gonzalo Pineda had back-to-back shots at Ricketts before the ball bounded out to Pineda, who sent it back to Dempsey. The man who helped lead the U.S. out of the “Group of Death” wasn’t going to give life to Portland again, breaking the tension with an easy, four-yard score beyond the reach of Ricketts.
The flurry was part of Seattle’s 18-5 shot differential in the second half that broke open a scoreless deadlock. A key element was the insertion in the 51st minute of Martins, who was held out of the starting lineup as a precaution following a sore hamstring. The Timbers’ disorganized defense was no match for two international-class scorers.
“It was fun — playing with Oba is like playing pickup,” Dempsey said after his first game in two months with Seattle. “We just look for each other. We see the game the same. We like to link up and make those passes that create space for each other so that we can create chances for each other to get looks in front of goal.
“I really enjoy playing with him. He’s a great player and he has had a great career and he continues to play well.”
Dempsey and U.S. teammate DeAndre Yedlin showed no effects from returning from the world’s sports epicenter to club play.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 years,” Dempsey said, referring to transitioning back to club play after his third World Cup. “I’ve played in World Cups and gone back to playing with clubs. It’s something that I’ve gotten used. I’m lucky and privileged that I’m able to do both.”
Schmid said the decision not to rush Dempsey back from Brazil paid off.
“I think we did the right thing by giving Clint the week off,” he said. “It gave him time to spend with his family. You look around the league and some (USMNT members) on teams that are struggling, those guys got right back into the mix to be good teammates.
“DeAndre had some time off, and he will have a few more days off after the Tottenham game, because I think you need to do that. Clint felt fresh when he came back, and DeAndre is a young kid and doesn’t know how to feel yet.”
Portland still had a couple quality attempts at an equalizer until the 86th minute, when Lamar Neagle lobbed a cross into the box that Marco Pappa corralled a moment after Ricketts made his only mistake, sliding off his feet as Pappa cranked back. He had an open net.
The teams met Wednesday at Starfire in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal, won by Seattle 3-1 in extra time. Going 120 minutes did no good for the Timbers defense, according to Portland coach Caleb Porter.
“I think a lot of it had to do with fatigue, especially in the second half,” he said. “In the first half, it was very even and they had very few chances. We made it a tight game, which is what you need to do when you’re playing on the road against a team like the Seattle Sounders.
“They’re attackers were fresh versus our defenders, who played 120 minutes on Wednesday.”
Excuses aside, there’s reasons the Timbers are 4-6-9 and the Sounders 12-4-2, which is what troubles the MLS.
“They’re a very good team,” Porter said. “When Martins came on and paired with Dempsey, they gave us a lot of problems. Dempsey proved why he’s one of the best players in our country.”
Add that to the hostile house — the Sounders are 10-0-3 with home crowds above 40,000 — and it was not a good day to be from Portland.
Or Argentina. Or Brazil.
But they are so then. The Sounders are now.