PORTLAND — Clint Dempsey wanted the ball.

The Sounders FC superstar had already scored twice in Saturday’s not-soon-to-be-forgotten epic against the Timbers, and when Seattle earned a late penalty kick for a chance to tie, the duty would be no one else’s.

Gonzalo Pineda had come in as the Sounders’ top choice to take PKs, but he was happy to concede. The experienced midfielder could see the bigger picture.

“To me, the most important thing is the team,” Pineda said, “and it’s important that Clint gets confidence in himself, because he’s a key player for us.”

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Dempsey calmly finished the spot kick in the 87th minute, sending goalkeeper and ex-Sounder Andrew Weber the wrong direction to complete a stunning hat trick and secure a remarkable 4-4 tie in front of 20,814 at Providence Park.

Seattle had come back from deficits of 2-1 and 4-2 to avoid a fourth straight defeat to the rival Timbers. And after his breakout game, Dempsey didn’t forget the gesture from Pineda.

“Maybe I can get him a soda pop,” he said with a wide grin.

The rest of the league isn’t smiling after the headline-grabbing performance, one many around the league had been waiting for since his multimillion-dollar return stateside in August. The three-goal display was Dempsey’s first in MLS and the fifth in the team’s history.

“He’s a leader,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “He wants to lead this team, he wants to show last year was not the Clint Dempsey that we’re going to see this year, and he wants to show people he’s ready for the World Cup coming up. I think he did that today.”

Teammate Lamar Neagle put it more succinctly when it came to Dempsey, a player often scrutinized at the MLS and U.S. national-team levels: “Finally everyone can relax and calm down.”

The stage for a dramatic comeback was set in the second half, when the Timbers broke a 2-2 tie with two long-range blasts by Diego Chara and Maximiliano Urruti in the 55th and 57th minutes, respectively.

The four goals conceded were tied for second-worst in Sounders history. And more shocking was that the Timbers had just three combined goals in their first four games.

“We had a mountain to climb,” said Dempsey, who wore the captain’s armband in his return from a two-game suspension.

Seattle (2-2-1) began its rally late, nearly scoring in the 77th minute when forward Obafemi Martins missed high with an open header set up by Dempsey.

Then Dempsey took over, following up a pair of his own near-misses with his second goal of the night in the 85th minute on a pass by Martins, who earned his team-leading fourth assist.

The comeback was completed two minutes later when Sounders defender DeAndre Yedlin raced up the right side to draw a penalty kick. Yedlin, who had an important goal-line clearance earlier in the game, admitted he was looking for contact from Portland’s Ben Zemanski on the play.

“I’m glad he touched me,” the Seattle native said, “because I was trying to draw a penalty either way.”

Both teams had near-misses in the closing minutes to cap what was a frenetic, up-and-down contest. The 41 combined shots were most in a Sounders game, and the eight goals tied the record.

The Timbers (0-2-3) had never gone without a win in the first five games of a season.

A head-spinning first half saw Seattle’s Kenny Cooper, who played for Portland in 2011, tally first in the third minute, when he knocked in a ball from Jalil Anibaba for the second-fastest MLS goal in team history.

Cooper, after his second goal in as many games, made a point not to celebrate in front of his former team and fans.

“I’m very appreciative and grateful for the way they treated me when I was here,” he said. “I would never want to disrespect them.”

Portland quickly responded with goals in the ninth and 14th minutes by Chara and Diego Valeri, but Dempsey — who else? — had the answer in the 24th minute.

That comeback spirit was present again in the second half.

“I’m excited about the character of the team that showed through today,” Schmid said. “You’re down 4-2 with … eight minutes to go and most people are saying, ‘This one is over.’ ”

Sounders hat tricks
Clint Dempsey’s hat trick Saturday against Portland was the fifth in Sounders history. Here is the list:
Date Player Game Result
April 5, 2014 Clint Dempsey at Portland T, 4-4
Aug. 25, 2012 Fredy Montero at Chivas USA W, 6-2
March 17, 2012 David Estrada vs. Toronto FC W, 3-1
Aug. 27, 2011 Lamar Neagle vs. Columbus W, 6-2
Sept. 18, 2010 Blaise Nkufo at Columbus W, 4-0

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184

or jmayers@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @joshuamayers