Sounders 1, Timbers 0

Clint Dempsey’s introduction to the Cascadia rivalry came before

one of the largest crowds in Major League Soccer history and was

filled with pushes and shoves, harsh tackles and heated words.

And Seattle got the better of its rivals from Portland.

”I told the guys before the game, this career is so fleeting

and there is so much uncertainty day to day … but the one thing I

know for certain is we beat Portland, period,” Seattle defender

Zach Scott said. ”We’re always going to be the team to beat. They

can say there is a changing of the guard, they can say we’re a

group of stars and they are the team, but in the end we are the

ones that are going to come out victorious.”

Eddie Johnson flicked a header past goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts

off a free kick in the 60th minute, and the Seattle Sounders made

Dempsey’s home debut memorable with a 1-0 win Sunday night over the

Portland Timbers before the second-largest, stand-alone crowd in

Major League Soccer history.

The crowd of 67,385 trailed only the first home game for the Los

Angeles Galaxy in 1996 that drew 69,255. It topped the 66,452 that

saw Seattle and Portland play last October at CenturyLink Field and

was the largest for any match in Seattle, besting a friendly

against Manchester United in 2011.

”Nobody compares to our fans. When they turn out in numbers

like that, it’s indescribable,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid

said.

Johnson scored his fourth goal against the Timbers moments after

his speed in the open field drew a free kick when he was chopped

down by defender Pa Modou Kah. Mauro Rosales’ curling ball into the

box found Johnson wide open after he left defender Alvas Powell

behind.

”We’re going to keep suffering if we don’t find goals and if we

don’t sort out set pieces,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said.

It was Johnson’s sixth goal in MLS play. Seattle improved to

35-0-8 in its last 43 games when scoring first and controlled the

second half after Portland had the better chances in the first 45

minutes.

The Sounders moved into a tie for fifth place in the Western

Conference with 37 points and still have at least one game in hand

on the rest of their playoff competition.

”I like the occasion of it. I like to play in big games,”

Johnson said. ”We know how much it means to the fans. We know how

much it means to the organization, the importance of these games.

But at the end of the day you want to step up in big games and show

your value.”

Seattle was on pace for another crowd of 60,000-plus before

Dempsey’s arrival. But the acquisition of the U.S. captain from

Tottenham, plus Seattle’s archrival being his first home match,

pushed the stadium past its capacity.

Before the game, fans jammed Occidental Park north of the

stadium for the annual pregame march to it. Flares were lit, songs

were sung and full city blocks were crammed with fans in rave

green.

And No. 2 jerseys with ”Dempsey” across the back flooded the

stadium.

Dempsey received the loudest screams when he was the last name

announced during pregame introductions. Fans added Dempsey-related

signs around the stadium, including ”Dempseyland” on north

stands.

He delighted the fans with his footwork and creativity. In the

first half, he flicked a no-look pass to Johnson and nearly scored

in the second-half on a modified scissor kick – he called it a

”ninja kick” – as he tried to get his first goal for Seattle.

The Timbers weren’t afraid to be physical with Dempsey, pushing

him off the ball when they could. Kah was especially willing,

drawing Dempsey’s ire and a few shoves in the back. But it was his

careless tackle on Johnson that led to the free kick that gave

Seattle the victory.

”It’s showing character. That’s what you have to have in these

types of games. Being able to push yourself to the limit but not

too far,” Dempsey said. ”I thought the team showed a lot of

character, kept a clean sheet, and Eddie does what he does. He

comes up in big moments.”

Portland had its chances to ruin the night for its rivals to the

north. Portland’s Darlington Nagbe had a shot from outside the box

that was punched over the net by goalkeeper Michael Gspurning in

the 88th minute. Andrew Jean-Baptiste’s header was caught by

Gspurning in stoppage time.

Gspurning was also forced to make a number of key saves in the

first half, coming off his line to smother Ryan Johnson on a

breakaway in the 16th minute and getting a bit of luck in the 37th

minute when Diego Valeri’s shot from outside the box curled but hit

the goalpost flush and ricocheted away.

”Everyone knows we’re a good team. It’s just a matter of

showing it,” Ryan Johnson said. ”They finished their chances

tonight and we didn’t. I think next time, we’re going to come out

on top.”