Tyrone Mears turned what would have been a hugely frustrating draw into a momentum-reversing victory with a single swing of his leg.
Tyrone Mears’ goal had been a long time coming.
D.C. United had played down a man for more than an hour, surviving lengthy spells of Sounders possession and an unseasonably soupy Seattle night.
Eighty-eight minutes of game time had come and gone by the time an over-hit cross bounced its way to Mears on the right edge of the D.C. box — 61 minutes from the time Fabian Espindola saw red.
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Mears charged onto the ball, lined up his shot and smashed it with his right foot toward the left post. His shot weaved between a pair of United defenders, rising as it went past goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra.
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Mears’ strike snapped Seattle’s three-match MLS losing skid, edging 10-man, league-leading D.C. 1-0 in front of an announced crowd of 40,410 at CenturyLink Field.
“It seemed like we were knocking on the doorstep,” forward Chad Barrett said afterward. “Yeah, they were down a man. We were there, but we just couldn’t put it in. It seemed like one of those nights. That was otherworldly from Tyrone. It took a beautiful goal for us to win it.”
It was also Barrett who admitted earlier this week that “to tell you the truth, I’d take an own goal by D.C. and win 1-nothing, them having 30 shots and us having zero. I don’t care how it happens.”
Espindola may not have scored an own goal, but he gave the Sounders (10-7-2) a gift nonetheless.
The D.C. forward had been going at it with Seattle defender Zach Scott throughout the opening passages of the game. A particularly physical 13th-minute collision left Scott on a yellow card and with blood on his neck, heading to the sideline for a clean, blank jersey.
Then, 27 minutes into what was developing into a battle of attrition, Espindola jabbed a high forearm up near Scott’s face while both were fighting for a through ball and was shown a straight red card.
The game brought more bad injury news for the Sounders as goalkeeper Stefan Frei exited before halftime with what the club is calling a left shoulder sprain.
“It wasn’t a dislocation,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “It wasn’t a separation. Those are the injuries you’re worried about. … It’s more of a pain threshold thing and how quick your range of motion comes back.”
The game also marked the return of Osvaldo Alonso into the starting lineup after a monthlong absence with a nagging hamstring injury — a span that saw the Sounders drop five out of six matches.
Alonso’s presence brought a steadiness on the ball that has been lacking in recent matches. Especially when he’s playing in a lineup as inexperienced as this one, the veteran midfielder functions as the team’s older brother — the guy teammates look to as an outlet when they’re in trouble, as a leader when the going gets tough.
“If I’m a young player like Cristian Roldan and on the field with (Gonzalo) Pineda and Alonso, it’s going to make it easier than when I’m not the field with (Michael) Azira,” Schmid said. “… It makes it easier for the young guy to pick up the bits and pieces he needs to pick up.”
Though Mears is newer to Seattle, the 32-year-old veteran provided a similar influence for the back line.
“He’s filled a major hole that was left after last season here,” backup goalkeeper Troy Perkins said, “and he provides a lot of calmness. He’s never wound up. He’s never overexuberant. He’s scored goals like that in training every day.”
Maybe so, but it had been a while since Mears scored one in a game, since the winter of 2011. The defender has bounced from Burnley to Bolton to Seattle since then, dealt with a series of injury setbacks.
His strike, all the sweeter for providing a lift to a locker room that badly needed it, had been a long time coming.
“I’d missed a lot of football with my broken leg, almost three seasons,” Mears said. “It’s been really frustrating, but I’m feeling better.
“My first thought was about heading for the bench. We’re a big family here, and we’re all hurting. I know the fans have been as well. I wanted to celebrate with everybody.”