The spotlight was acutely focused on the stars in Sounders FC’s talent-laden home game against Toronto FC, and on Saturday, at least, the money looked well spent.
Clint Dempsey continued his productive start to the season, scoring his first goal amid second-half comeback efforts for Seattle, but early mistakes ultimately proved too costly in a 2-1 defeat in front of 38,441 at CenturyLink Field.
Forward Jermain Defoe, making his MLS debut after a multimillion-dollar transfer from Tottenham of the Premier League, scored twice in a lethal display of finishing in the first half. The English international became just one of three players in MLS history to have scored twice before halftime of his first game.
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“If you give a good player like Defoe two good looks on goal, he is going to show you he is a good player — and he did,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid.
Seattle (1-1) had been dominant against Toronto, coming in with a 6-1-1 record all time, including five straight wins. The script was completely different against a revamped Toronto roster, however, one also featuring newly acquired U.S. Soccer star Michael Bradley.
Trailing 2-0 in the second half, the Sounders cut into the deficit in the 68th minute when Obafemi Martins collected a pass on the right wing from Lamar Neagle and centered the ball to Dempsey, who blasted a right-footed shot past goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
With the goal, plus an assist last week, Dempsey has already matched his production from last season with the Sounders over 921 minutes.
“I have to keep pushing,” Dempsey said, “and there is more to come.”
Seattle hoped that would be the case Saturday in regard to an equalizer, but one never came despite 72.9 percent of the possession and a 7-1 shot advantage in a lopsided second half.
The deflation of the season’s first defeat was buoyed by the dominant second half.
“We came up a little bit short in not getting an equalizer, but at the same time, I thought we showed a lot of heart,” Dempsey said.
Toronto (1-0) opened the scoring in the 17th minute when Defoe got behind the defense on a perfectly weighted pass by Jonathan Osorio and fired an open shot past goalkeeper Stefan Frei. The play was aided when Seattle captain Brad Evans had to leave the field with a calf injury, an ailment that would soon force him out of the game, and the Sounders failed to cover his area in midfield.
The advantage quickly doubled when Defoe recovered a horrible back-pass from Seattle’s Marco Pappa in the 24th minute and calmly put away his second goal.
“We gave up two goals that were very soft,” Schmid lamented. “I thought we gave them two gifts.”
Pappa took full responsibility for his role in the second goal: “It was a big mistake, for sure. But I have to say thanks to the guys. They gave me great support afterward.”
The deficit wasn’t a good sign as the Sounders came in with a woeful 0-20 mark when going down 2-0 in games (0-25 when including the playoffs). Saturday looked like it might be the breakthrough regarding two-goal deficits, but more important will be the team’s long-term response.
“How you deal with adversity,” Schmid said, “is what defines your character at the end of the day. Today was a little bit of adversity and we put ourselves into that situation, so now we have to come back from that.”
• Dempsey avoided potentially serious in-game punishment in the first half when it appeared he struck Toronto defender Mark Bloom in the groin. It could be a play reviewed this week by the MLS Disciplinary Committee.
Asked if the blow was intentional, Dempsey said: “To be honest with you, I felt a hand on my back. I tried to hit it away and thought I was hitting his hand away. I understand that maybe I did catch him a little bit. I apologized to him about that, but for me, all I was trying to do was smack his hand from touching my back.”
Bloom told the Toronto Sun: “I believe him, for now.”
• Midfielder Gonzalo Pineda made his Seattle debut as a first-half substitute for the injured Evans. “I’m supposed to enjoy my first game,” said Pineda, a former Mexican international, “but it’s hard when we lost.”
• Evans said he doesn’t think the injury is serious, but there is no timeline yet for a return. When subbed out, Evans gave the captain’s armband to Dempsey.
• The Sounders were fouled 25 times Saturday, matching a franchise record set last week against Sporting Kansas City.
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