The Sounders’ match against the Chicago Fire was the team’s last before the World Cup break. It also immediately followed a stunning, 4-0 demolition of Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field.
Even with a loss on the road, the team was in no danger of losing its place at the top of the West, and all of MLS. A letdown wouldn’t have been out of the question. It happens, especially before a little vacation.
Nope. Not this team, not this year. This team is just … different than previous years. Maybe it’s the talent level. Maybe it’s maturity. Probably it’s both.
The result: The Sounders won 3-2, and now they sit well ahead of Real Salt Lake atop the Supporters Shield table with 32 points after 15 games. That’s damn good.
For fun, look at Statcorner’s projected MLS table, which adjusts for things like remaining home/road games – the Sounders are on pace for 72 points. Seventy. Two. That’s absurd.
The Sounders played, obviously, without Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin again, and, again, looked totally fine. There’s no shortage of creative talent on this team.
No Dempsey meant more fun for Obafemi Martins, who scored two goals, probably should have had a third with a near miss in the opening minutes, and is making a legit case to be including in the MVP discussion alongside Dempsey.
Lamar Neagle notched another goal, assisted by Kenny Cooper, who’s become something of a wonder off the bench late in games.
Now let’s discuss … THE REF.
Two big calls by referee Chris Penso in this one, after an opening 24 minutes that saw three yellows handed out, including one each to Jhon-Kennedy Hurtado and Obafemi Martins.
JKH was sent off for a two-footed, studs-up tackle in the box that sent Obafemi Martins flying to avoid getting taken out.
No, Oba wasn’t really touched on the play. Yeah, it’s still a card-able offense, even without the earlier yellow. In a league that still suffers from a few officials who are more than willing to let players hack each other to pieces, it’s a relief to see cards given like that.
It got Oba a PK that he knocked home for a 2-0 lead, which lasted for all of three minutes before Harry Shipp, despite his team being a man down, had no trouble finding his way to a ball from Quincy Amarikwa and on through a maze of Sounders midfielders and defenders, darting past Ozzie Alonso, Brad Evans, Chad Marshall and Jalil Anibaba before sending a shot to the far post and past Stefan Frei.
The second big decision for Penso came in the 42nd minute, when he sent Oba packing for … I’m not really sure. The box score lists “fight” as the reason for the red, but there’s no footage of anyone fighting.
This MLSSoccer.com reportquotes Fire midfielder Benji Joya as explaining, “[Martins] reached to grab [the ball] but his fist was closed, got my chin and then pulled the ball away.”
Now, think about that for a second. Oba supposedly was trying to get the ball back, ostensibly for a quick start, from Joya, and thought that the best way to do that would be to grab it … with a closed fist? That seems like a highly ineffectual strategy obtaining a ball from someone.
Without any footage (that we know of) to contradict what the ref called, though, it sure looks like Oba will miss, at least, the DC United match after the World Cup break. If the United States doesn’t advance out of the group, then Oba’s absence could be mitigated by the return of Dempsey, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The rest of the match saw Neagle put the Sounders ahead 3-1, and Shipp pull another one back in the 82nd minute. It wasn’t enough, but damn, Harry Shipp is gonna have a nice career.
The game also saw a performance from Frei that, despite the two goals given up to Shipp, should give Sounders fans confidence in his abilities. Three excellent saves, which served as reminders that, yeah, he’ll be fine back there.
Next up: Some time off, sure, but the Open Cup looms, with a match against PSA Elite on June 18, and then a couple of tough road matches against DC United and Vancouver.