So, perhaps the first regular-season goal by Clint Dempsey since last September, enabling a 1-1 home draw Saturday night with the Chicago Fire, will be the spark his Sounders need to do more than just aspire to something better.
Clint Dempsey was his usual stoic, composed self in discussing the time it took him to register the one goal needed to tie a franchise record.
Many babies have been conceived and born in the gap between Dempsey’s equalizer for the Sounders in the 1-1 draw Saturday night with the Chicago Fire and his previous regular-season strike back in September against Vancouver. In the interim, the Sounders team he and Fredy Montero now lead with 47 career regular-season goals apiece has gone from a defending champion to a dethroned finalist, to a squad trying to avoid the Major League Soccer basement.
And even Dempsey, who can rattle off exact moments of his prior scoring slumps with expert recall and nerveless poise, had to admit the math is becoming a challenge for his team if it wants a playoff shot.
“We’re not looking that far (ahead), we’re looking at the next game,’’ Dempsey said after his team failed to secure a much-needed home victory in front of 39,513 spectators at CenturyLink Field. “It’s a must-win. We’ve got to get three points. That’s how we’re approaching every game.’’
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That message had been delivered moments before in a postgame address to the squad by Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, who wasn’t thrilled with a run-and-gun second half in which both teams abandoned serious defending and took turns missing a blizzard of chances that nearly won it for their respective sides.
Besides Dempsey’s goal in the 22nd minute, erasing a ninth-minute opening score by Chicago midfielder Aleksandar Katai, the only thing that kept the Sounders from coming away with zero points was the acrobatic effort of goalkeeper Stefan Frei. Chicago poured it on the final five minutes of regulation and into extra time, forcing Frei into key stops.
His biggest came off a blast to the near post by Jorge Corrales in the 89th minute that Frei had alertly anticipated before diving back across his goal mouth to knock the ball out of bounds. Frei then got somewhat lucky in extra time when a turnover led to a through ball and near-certain scoring chance for Alan Gordon, who somehow failed to put his shot on net.
Gordon and Frei would collide moments later, both leaping for a ball in the air. The goalkeeper took an elbow and forearm to the head and was clearly groggy in being helped off the field as the final whistle blew.
Frei still was being evaluated after the game, and no immediate update on his condition was given.
For the Sounders, now 3-8-3 and with 12 points in 14 matches, the Dempsey goal was a welcome development for a team needing to get on a roll. At least four matches remain before any reinforcements likely will arrive during the summer transfer window, and the Sounders likely will need to win at least two and steal some points in the others.
Otherwise, they’d need to average more than two points a game the final 16 matches to have a realistic playoff shot, and that’s something they couldn’t manage during their stellar second-half runs the past two years.
“We’ve started to look at the standings and do the math,’’ Schmetzer said. “Today was two points dropped.’’
Schmetzer was optimistic about his veteran players, including Nicolas Lodeiro, Victor Rodriguez, Will Bruin and Dempsey providing a stronger attacking look in recent games. He talked about Dempsey being a streaky goal-scorer and hoped his first-half conversion of a Bruin pass will be the start of something good for a Sounders team that outshot Chicago 19-15.
But those good things have to come soon.
“Guys need to start getting hot, getting switched on,’’ Schmetzer said.
Bruin was physically abused throughout the game, but caught a break when a defender draped on top of him as he took a Harry Shipp pass suddenly backed off at the last instant.
“I thought he’d be all over me, but he gave me just enough room,’’ Bruin said.
Bruin tapped a quick pass from the right side across the goal mouth to a sliding Dempsey, who redirected it home.
After a “frustrating” season of near-misses and non-chances alike, Dempsey admitted “it felt good” to see the ball enter the net.
“Anytime you get good service to the box it’s always great as an attacking player because it gives you more opportunities to score,’’ Dempsey said. “I had some good looks tonight, and we created some good chances.’’
Dempsey alluded to a lack of chances during his drought, something he says had improved with Lodeiro and Rodriguez returning. He says the game has become more “fun” of late.
“I’m just trying to help the team with this run they’ve had of making the playoffs every year,’’ he said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. The goal is to try to put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs again, and hopefully we can do that.’’