Never mind Eddie Johnson’s goal in the 53rd minute that put the U.S. ahead 2-0 on Tuesday — simply the fact that the Sounders FC forward was in the starting lineup with Seattle teammate Brad Evans for the World Cup qualifier against Panama was a bit of club-meets-country history itself.
It was the first time two Sounders started for the U.S. national team. Evans got perhaps the largest cheer during pregame introductions (though Johnson was a close second).
Evans, a midfielder for the Sounders, was making his third straight start with the Americans at right back, including the June 2 friendly against Germany and Friday’s World Cup qualifier in which he played the role of unlikely hero by scoring the winner in stoppage time.
“I think that Brad Evans is just growing into his role,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “He’s making a very strong case for himself in our group to play that role.”
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The fact that the start came at the Sounders’ home venue was just a bonus.
“It was insane,” Evans said. “From warm-ups to thanking the crowd after the game, it was absolutely nuts — but to be expected. It’s nothing new. Not surprising at all.”
Johnson had appeared in all four previous matches of this year’s final round of CONCACAF qualifying, but Tuesday was his first start since a Feb. 6 qualifier in Honduras. A forward in Seattle, he lined up at right midfield to replace Graham Zusi, who was suspended for the match after earning his second yellow card of the final round against Jamaica.
That was one of two changes in the starting lineup from Klinsmann, who had started identical lineups in consecutive games for the first time against Germany and Jamaica. Geoff Cameron was the other new starter, replacing midfielder Jermaine Jones, who suffered a concussion in Friday’s match.
The U.S. got a big favor from Costa Rica, which tied Mexico in Mexico City, 0-0, in another CONCACAF World Cup qualifier.
The Americans came into Tuesday in a three-way tie for the lead in the six-team final round, but with their win and the tie in Mexico, the U.S. (3-1-1) moved into sole possession of first place with 10 points.
The top three teams qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, while the fourth team faces a playoff with New Zealand for a berth.
• The 40,847 spectators that showed up were the second-most at a U.S. national-team game in Seattle. The largest crowd was Jan. 29, 1994, for an exhibition match against Russia at the Kingdome.
• Combined with the crowd from the Sounders’ home game against Vancouver on Saturday, 94,526 attended soccer games at CenturyLink Field the last four days.
• The sod surface laid over CenturyLink’s turf was the subject of some controversy before the game, but Klinsmann gave it a passing grade. “The field was totally fine,” he said. “The players were fine with it. They did a tremendous job with the field. They accommodated every wish we had — watered here, watered there, rolled the field again this morning — I can just give the biggest compliment to everybody here.”
• The next qualifier for the U.S. is June 18 against Honduras in Sandy, Utah.
Seattle Times reporter Joshua Mayers contributed to this story.