The largest crowd ever to watch a soccer match in the Pacific Northwest was on hand Sunday when Seattle Sounders FC edged the Portland Timbers, 1-0, at CenturyLink Field.
Yet it seems possible no one in that announced crowd of 67,385 enjoyed the result more than Sounders defender Zach Scott, who was playing in his 27th match against the Timbers.
“I told the guys before the game: This career is so fleeting, there’s so much uncertainty day to day, whether you’re in the lineup, whether you have a job next year; but the one thing I know for certain is we beat Portland,” Scott said. “We’re always going to be the team to beat. They can say there’s a changing of the guard, they can say we’re a group of stars and they’re the team, but in the end we’re the ones that are going to come out victorious.”
The Sounders did so Sunday behind an Eddie Johnson goal in the 60th minute. Then they made that stand up with a clean sheet by goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.
“It’s absolutely a highlight in my career, this night,” Gspurning said. “Playing in front of 68,000, playing a derby, playing a great game with a win: awesome night. A night I will remember in 20 years.”
The crowd toppled the Sounders’ previous attendance record of 67,052, which turned out for the 2011 friendly against Manchester United, and their record of 66,452 for an MLS match, last year against Portland.
It also was the second-largest crowd for any MLS game not part of an international doubleheader. It was the third-largest soccer crowd in the world this weekend.
The crowd turned out for the battle of Northwest archrivals, and also to see the home debut of Sounders designated player Clint Dempsey, who took four shots and suffered a team-high four fouls.
“It’s physical, it’s reckless challenges, it’s getting frustrated, it’s battling through it, showing character — that’s what you have to have in these types of games,” Dempsey said. “… I thought the team showed a lot of character, kept the clean sheet, and Eddie does what he does. He comes up in big moments.”
Johnson’s big moment came in the 60th minute, when he headed home a free kick from Mauro Rosales.
“I just had to attack,” Johnson said. “I knew it was going to be a frustrating game, but for me I wanted to use my experience and when the opportunity came, rise to the occasion.”
Though scoreless until then, the match flashed end to end action from the start.
Seattle pushed forward aggressively, with several nice combinations between Dempsey, Johnson and Lamar Neagle. Portland depended more on counterattacks, but was dangerous on several occasions, including a Diego Valeri shot off the crossbar in the 35th minute.
“It was an exciting game, for sure, for the fans,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “I thought it was a little more physical than it needed to be – that took a little bit away from the quality of the game. But obviously we’re pleased with being able to get a clean sheet in the back, and pleased that we finished the one goal to give us the three points.”
The result moved Seattle to 11-8-4 in MLS – fifth in the Western Conference, but second in points per game -- and to the top of the Cascadia Cup standings at 2-1-1.
Portland dropped to 9-4-12 -- still the fewest losses in the league -- but remains winless in the Cascadia Cup race at 0-1-3, behind Seattle and Vancouver (1-1-2).
The buzz began long before the first kick. Several veteran observers said the pregame “march to the match” was the largest they had seen. The crowd roared when Dempsey was introduced at home for the first time. And Emerald City Supporters rolled out a tifo that stretched across seven lower-bowl sections, from the bottom of the upper deck down to the lowest row. (A photo of the tifo is available at blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer.)
The Sounders return to action Saturday at Columbus.