Through 33 games of the MLS regular season, the Sounders and Galaxy were still level at 61 points. Through 84 minutes of their season finale Saturday at CenturyLink Field, the teams were level at zero goals.
With 3,055 minutes of the season down and five to go, Seattle forward Obafemi Martins threaded a pass for Marco Pappa between the Galaxy defense and into the opposing box.
The substitute finished low to give the Sounders the lead and, a few minutes later, he doubled it, stripping the ball from Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, then chipping it over him to kick off celebrations that were still raging when the final whistle blew shortly afterward.
On Saturday, seven months and 17 days after opening the year with a 1-0 victory over Kansas City, the Sounders stood on the same stretch of soggy turf and lifted their first Supporters’ Shield, one clinched by a 2-0 victory over the Galaxy.
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“I honestly think the Supporters’ Shield is more important than an MLS Cup championship,” Seattle defender DeAndre Yedlin said of the regular-season championship trophy.
“In terms of the best team, this is the best team over a full season.”
The Sounders finished that full season with 20 wins, the most in MLS since the league stopped using shootouts as a tiebreaker in 2001. They scored 65 goals and allowed 50, won the U.S. Open Cup and remain on track to complete the league’s first-ever treble if they win the MLS Cup in early December.
The cumulative effects of all those games — the victories as well as the 10 losses and four draws — were on full display in the buildup to that first goal.
Most of the action that preceded it had been a slog. There were bobbling balls and tumbling attackers, plenty of fouls and precious few scoring chances. There were six yellow cards shown and 40 fouls combined.
“It wasn’t a good game for the fans to watch,” Seattle forward Clint Dempsey said. “It was great that we won. … But just the fouling, the kicking, the stop-start, stop-start, there wasn’t much fluidity to the game.”
L.A. finished the game with a 13-4 edge in shots, and Seattle completed just over 61 percent of its passes. The Sounders didn’t even manage an effort on goal until the 76th minute, when Pappa fired a quick shot that was blocked wide shortly after he replaced Brad Evans.
The Galaxy needed all three points to overtake the Sounders in the standings, but for all those shots, few were good looks. The Seattle defense stood firm en route to its first shutout since August.
“We weren’t going to give up a goal today,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said.
Seattle needed only a draw to win the Shield, but as Schmid put it, “that’d be like a cake with no icing.”
Martins and Pappa provided the frosting five minutes before stoppage time.
The former drew a foul near midfield and took the resulting free kick quickly, before the Galaxy defense could reset. He played a give-and-go with Dempsey and zeroed in on the L.A. box. Pappa was wide open behind Martins.
“I wasn’t expecting the ball,” Pappa said. “I’m happy he saw me.”
Said Martins: “When I hold the ball, I see my teammates.”
One of the many story lines in the buildup to this game was the dueling MVP candidacies of Martins and Galaxy striker Robbie Keane. The former entered the game with a club-record 17 goals to along with 12 assists, but the latter has more of them combined, 33, than any other player in the league.
Keane was a late scratch with what was only described as a “nagging” injury. Martins was about to play the most important ball of the game.
The Seattle striker took an extra touch and drew a pair of defenders to himself before splitting them with a pass, hitting Pappa in stride to finish past Penedo.
“We’ve played together for many games, and we know more about each other, that’s for sure,” Pappa said. “Not only with Oba, but in general with the team.”
Those games included the exhilarating 4-2 win in Portland in August and the puzzling 5-0 loss in New England in May. The season included a surge up the standings while the World Cup stars were away and inconsistency down the stretch.
All of it led up to Saturday, to the very last minute of the very last regular-season game, when Pappa took the ball off Penedo’s laces and secured Seattle’s first-ever Shield.
“It’s 34 weeks of training, it’s 34 weeks of games. It’s all of that put together,” Schmid said.
“It doesn’t matter if you get your points early or get your points late, all that matters is the amount of points that you have at the end of the day.”
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|Seattle secured home-field advantage and faces the winner of Wednesday’s Dallas-Vancouver game. The road leg is TBD and the home leg is set for Nov. 10.|
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