Sounders FC was two days away from a top-of-the-table showdown with second-place Real Salt Lake, and coach Sigi Schmid was fuming. The team looked far from its best in practice Thursday, and he let the players hear it.
“Sigi was pretty upset with us,” said Brad Evans, defender and captain.
Consider the message received.
Seattle, 48 hours later, matched the franchise’s largest margin of victory in Saturday’s showdown between Western Conference powers, tightening its grasp on first place with a clinical 4-0 win against previously unbeaten RSL in front of 39,245 fans at a sunny CenturyLink Field.
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Perfect weather. Perfect matchup. Perfect result.
“We come out today and play arguably our best game of the season,” said Evans, noting the contrast from a poor performance in practice. “Funny how those things work.”
Seattle (9-3-2) has won five straight at home, one short of a team record, and stretched its lead in the West to five points. RSL had come in looking to become the first team in league history to go undefeated in its first 13 games, but the visitors left humbled after falling to 6-1-6.
“It’s nice to kind of end other people’s streaks,” said midfielder Lamar Neagle.
The Sounders have been in first place for seven weeks with no sign of slowing. So was the one-sided beating of the No. 2 team a message?
“Right now we’re not about sending messages,” Schmid said. “We’re in first place, we wanted to hold onto first place, and we talked about creating some separation there. As a group we are maturing, and being able to step into a game between a first-place team and a second-place team and win and have a convincing result speaks volumes for our character.”
Leading 1-0 in the second half, the Sounders extended the lead in the 55th minute on a highlight-reel strike from midfielder Marco Pappa. The chance was set up after one of 21 fouls suffered by Seattle, and the Guatemalan newcomer curled a beauty of a left-footed free kick over the wall and just inside the post to make it 2-0.
It was Pappa’s first goal as a Sounder — his first in MLS since Aug. 4, 2012 — since coming in as a high-profile acquisition through the allocation order.
Schmid called the goal “beautiful.”
Evans’ adjective of choice was “phenomenal.”
Pappa knew it was good as soon as he hit the ball.
“For sure,” he said with a smile.
Seattle added to the lead in the 62nd minute when Neagle found an open Chad Barrett, whose shot took a deflection on its way in. It was Barrett’s second goal in as many weeks, his third of the season. Neagle tied a career high with his fourth assist.
Designated player Obafemi Martins capped the rout with a 90th-minute goal, a tap-in set up by substitute Kenny Cooper, giving the Sounders an MLS-best 29 goals.
RSL, which came into the game with the league’s second-best offense, didn’t even record a shot on goal until the 72nd minute, as Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei earned his fourth shutout of the season.
“I think we defended really, really smart today,” said Frei. “We didn’t give up very many chances. Even though we scored four, you had the feeling that … one or two was going to be enough today. But it’s always good when you can put away a team like that.”
The Sounders opened the scoring just before halftime after what had been a choppy and sloppy first 40 minutes.
The chance came when referee Ricardo Salazar awarded Seattle a controversial penalty kick as Neagle was bowled over by RSL’s Aaron Maund in the penalty box on what looked to be a legal shoulder-to-shoulder tackle but perhaps with a bit too much force behind it.
The visitors’ bench was incensed at the call. So too was Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers, who said Salazar gifted the Sounders some goals.
“I think the ref felt he wronged Seattle many times, and he had to make it right,” Borchers told reporters.
Gonzalo Pineda hammered the 42nd-minute spot kick high and to the right of Attinella to convert his second PK in as many games.
“This was a playoff-like game because we wanted to keep first place in the league,” Pineda said. “We did, so it was big for everybody.”
• Sounders FC’s final game before the league’s World Cup break is June 7 at Chicago. Seattle’s next MLS home game isn’t until July 13 against Portland.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184
On Twitter @joshuamayers