The Sounders thoroughly dominated Real Salt Lake on Saturday and came away with a much deserved victory at CenturyLink Field
Nobody was really admitting it out loud, but a deflected Harry Shipp goal just before halftime was more than just a leg up on the scoreboard for a Sounders team in some dire straits.
They’d thrown everything they had at Real Salt Lake for nearly 42 minutes, watching strikes, headers and deflections sail either just wide or into the body of acrobatic keeper Nick Rimando. So, when Shipp finally scored late in the half, no one much cared that the only goal of this 1-0 victory came as the result of a re-directed strike.
Instead, the goal allowed the Sounders to change the narrative of recent weeks in which they’d outwork teams, fail to capitalize and then have a world of hurt collapse down upon them.
“When it first deflected, I was like ‘Oh, no, here we go again!’ ’’ Shipp said after his team ended a three-game losing streak in front of 40,588 fans at CenturyLink Field. “But it ended up in the back of the net, so, we’ll take it.’’
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Indeed, to have come away empty after a first half in which they outshot their opponents 14-1 might have been too much déjà vu for this snakebit team to handle. They’d experienced second-half collapses twice in the previous week after entering the second half tied each time despite similarly strong early play.
“It was important for us to kind of turn momentum in the locker room,’’ Shipp said. “It’s easy to kind of sulk and stuff when you think things keep going against you and we’re not putting our chances away and everything.’’
The Sounders still missed their share of chances; including a 56th minute Rimando save off U.S. Men’s National Team teammate Clint Dempsey on a penalty kick. Rimando almost singlehandedly kept Salt Lake in the contest, stopping a Jordan Morris deflection from in close in the fourth minute and then a Gustav Svensson header at the goalmouth in the 36th.
Given his team’s all-around dominance, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said the late goal by Shipp before halftime likely altered how they played later on.
“It was massive,’’ Schmetzer said. “Because then we could play 1-0 up instead of 0-0 at home or 0-1 down, or any of the other scenarios we’ve had this first 12 games of the season. So, it’s very vital for us to score that goal.’’
Indeed, the Sounders couldn’t afford any more second half sulking, especially with the acrobatic Rimando standing on his head. Rimando’s diving stop to his left of Dempsey’s penalty attempt seemed to lift the Salt Lake side for some late bursts.
But the Sounders, despite a couple of turnovers that led to rare Salt Lake chances, remained engaged throughout. Schmetzer had challenged Shipp pregame to not be so “nice’’ on the field and take more risks and shots to free up space for playmakers Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro.
Shipp heeded the advice, becoming more engaged on rushes and diverting attention his way. But he was uncovered near the top of the box when Svensson – who’d fought hard for a loose ball in close – spotted him and delivered a pass back for the strike that led to the game’s only goal.
Morris also took charge early, making strong runs for balls and nearly converting several early chances. Sounders right back Brad Evans, making his first start of the season after a calf injury, said the team used Morris’ speed more to its advantage than in prior games.
“It changes everything,’’ Evans said. “It allows us to drop balls in behind and turn around everybody. And that means they’re running at their goal and so are we. It’s an advantageous position for everybody on our team.’’
Evans on Friday had termed this a “must win’’ for his team, now 3-5-4 on the season. He wasn’t taking that back after the game, especially given the surprisingly close result of what could very easily have been an early blowout.
For now, that part of the Sounders’ early struggles continues to linger.
“I think tired legs plays into it,’’ he said of the team’s third game in a week. “But maybe it’s a little bit of complacency, or that fear creeps in when you’re not playing as well as you should and you’re only winning 1-0. Is it ‘Here we go again’ kind of thing? But you hold on to get the win. The most important thing is the three points.’’
Like a deflected goal, they’ll take the result over style every time.