Clint Dempsey’s debut was destined to be the Seattle Sounders’ big story from Saturday. But there would be no shortage of subplots.
Dempsey played 56 minutes and his new club held on for a 2-1 win over Toronto FC before a crowd of 18,766 at BMO Field.
“There has been a lot of talk, a lot of speculation, a lot of media stuff for me, but what I enjoy is being on the field and playing,” said Dempsey, who is second on the U.S. national team’s all-time scoring list. “It’s what I dreamed about as a kid, being a professional soccer player, and to be able to do that when you are on the field, it is home.
“So it was good to get on the field and get some touches, mix it up with the boys and to get familiar with this league again.”
Seattle jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first half on Mauro Rosales’ goal and an own goal by Toronto.
However, the Reds halved the lead in the first minute of the second half and kept the pressure on until the final seconds of stoppage time, when Sounders goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann saved Jeremy Brockie’s point-blank shot.
The result moved Seattle (10-7-4) back into playoff position and within seven points of the top of Western Conference and the Supporters’ Shield – with games in hand.
“This is the way that we wanted to be,” Rosales said. “It’s something that we have worked very hard to be here.”
Dempsey’s debut came earlier than scripted. He was rushed onto the field in the 34th minute after fellow-designated player Obefemi Martins suffered a leg injury.
“I didn’t want to bring someone else on because then I would have to make another sub,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “I just told Clint to manage his way through those (extra) 15 minutes: ‘You didn’t really get a proper warm-up, make sure you don’t pull anything.’ ”
Dempsey, who had been introduced exactly one week earlier as Seattle’s new designated player, contributed a team-high five shots and put one on goal. He suffered two fouls, committed one, and was offside once.
“I’m not there yet,” he said. “But I was happy with the touches that I got tonight and the work that I put in, and the chances that I created. And hopefully they will start falling for me in the games to come.”
Schmid had a similar take.
“I think Clint did well,” he said. “Obviously he hasn’t played in a game in two and half a weeks or so, so once you get your rhythm back it will make a big difference. His understanding of our players and our guys is something that will grow as well.”
Seattle’s first goal showed off much of the team’s current firepower. Martins took the ball around midfield, passed to Eddie Johnson, who returned it. Martins surged forward for several touches before sending it wide to Brad Evans. Evans lofted a cross to Johnson at the far post. Johnson headed it back to Rosales, who knocked the ball back into the far-side netting.
The second goal was ignited with a strong run from Lamar Neagle who fought through contact and crossed the ball in front of the goal, where it went off Toronto defender Doneil Henry’s heel and into the goal.
The Reds started breathing down the Sounders’ necks again with a goal about 30 seconds into the second half when Andrew Wiedeman rolled a ball across the goalmouth, where Jonathan Osorio knocked it in.
The result marked the Sounders’ third straight win, raising them to fifth place in the West. It also increased their unbeaten streak to four games, and extended their league-best active unbeaten streak to 42 games (34-0-8) when scoring first. The result ended a three-game unbeaten streak for Toronto (4-11-8)
The Sounders return to action Saturday at Houston. Johnson will miss that game after receiving a yellow card that pushed him over the accumulation limit.
Staff writer Don Ruiz contributed to this report.