Rain pouring. Fans singing. Stars performing.
The spectacle of Sounders FC’s 4-4 tie in Portland, highlighted by a magnificent hat trick by superstar Clint Dempsey, was entertainment for the ages. There were no winners in Saturday’s classic at Providence Park, but certainly no losers.
“Exciting,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “Great game to be a fan. Not a great game to be a coach, because it’s hard on your heart, but a fantastic game for our fans, for their fans and for national TV. I think a great (advertisement) for soccer.”
“You always think those games are going to be crazy,” added Lamar Neagle, “but 4-4 is as wild as it’s going to get.”
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No game in Seattle’s MLS history has seen more goals, assists or shots. And at the core of the offensive explosion, at least from the Sounders’ perspective, is a blossoming partnership between Dempsey and forward Obafemi Martins, the two highest-paid players to wear Rave Green.
Dempsey is the league’s co-leading scorer with four goals, three having been set up directly by Martins. On the other hand, Martins’ four assists, all in the last four games, are most in MLS.
The club’s multimillion-dollar investment, coming off criticism of not spending enough after the 2012 season, is paying off.
“Talking with Oba, we know that we have to play well for this team to do well also,” said Dempsey, “so it’s important to get each other on the ball and combine well and to get that partnership, that relationship of understanding where each other are on the field — and that’s building.”
Schmid said last week that trust has been the key to the Dempsey-Martins dynamic, as each of the world-class talents has faith the other will pass the ball when needed.
“They’ve looked for each other,” the coach added. “If anything, they’ve maybe looked for each other too much.”
Martins, normally a leading man, has been happy to serve as provider in the early going, particularly to his favorite target.
“We love playing with each other, trying to connect and trying to play well,” Martins said of his partnership with Dempsey. “This is just the beginning.”
Somewhat hidden in the excitement of Dempsey’s hat trick, not to mention a two-goal comeback in the final five minutes, was a woefully disappointing effort on defense.
Only once in MLS has Seattle allowed more goals.
“Definitely going to get back this week and look at video and look at how we can improve,” said defender Chad Marshall, “because we can’t give up four goals a game.”
The mistake-prone Sounders were punished for careless possession on many of the goals, and the skilled Timbers made the visitors pay, scoring three times on long-range shots from outside the penalty box. For comparison, Seattle has only scored once outside the box in 42 MLS games since the start of 2013.
Particularly concerning was the performance of Jalil Anibaba, making his first start as a Sounder in place of the suspended Djimi Traore. Anibaba was active on offense, but played a damaging role in most of the goals allowed.
“You’re never happy when you give up four goals,” Schmid said, “but I think some of the goals that we gave up were individual mistakes.”
• The Sounders’ three-game road trip continues Saturday at FC Dallas, which sits in first place in the Western Conference at 4-0-1.
• Seattle reserves beat Oregon State on Sunday, 3-1, behind goals from Marco Pappa, Chad Barrett and Federal Way native Sean Okoli.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @joshuamayers.