Players don’t get red-carded from soccer friendlies every day.
But it happened Sunday. And that proved to be the decisive moment in Celtic’s 2-1 win over Sounders FC before a crowd of 45,631 at Qwest Field.
“It still ended up being a decent game,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “It could have been a good game. Sort of like – what’s that book? – ‘A Good Walk Spoiled.’ It was a good game spoiled by, I thought, a poor decision. It is what it is, but I’m proud of how our team continued to play.”
The game shifted in the 29th minute when Celtic’s Georgios Samaras broke past the Seattle defense with only goalkeeper Terry Boss between him and the goal. Boss charged, dived and clipped Samaras. The Celtic midfielder when down, but struggled on and managed to kick the ball into the goal. However, referee Paul Ward blew his whistle, called the PK, and showed his red card.
That resulted in a Samaras penalty kick that produced the game’s first goal. But it also forced the Sounders to play one man down the rest of the way. And with Boss on the bench, it forced in emergency keeper Jordan Jennings of Tacoma, a non-roster player who less than 24 hours earlier had been playing for the development league Tacoma Tide before a crowd of, well, dozens.
“It’s a little bit of a different atmosphere,” Jennings said. “It’s amazing. ... This is a great experience. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life, for sure.”
Celtic and the shorthanded Sounders played evenly from there.
Celtic doubled its lead in the 64th minute, when Milan Misun broke free down the left side and crossed to Patrick McCourt, who gave Jennings no chance.
However, the Sounders answered two minutes later when David Estrada, a rookie who had just been substituted on, scorched in a shot from 25 yards.
Estrada nearly pulled things even in stoppage time, when he launched another one that Celtic keeper Dominic Cervi barely touched onto the woodwork.
“Sigi asked me to give a spark,” said Estrada, the Sounders’ top pick in the 2010 SuperDraft. “So I knew the first opportunity I was going to get, I was going to take it.”
Estrada was placed on the MLS injured list last week with a “chronic toe” issue, which also happened to open a roster spot for designed player Blaise Nkufo.
However, Estrada remains eligible for friendlies, U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League play, and Schmid implied the rookie’s performance had earned him more work.
Meanwhile, Nkufo went 60 minutes in his Sounders debut, showing strength along with the ability to possess and distribute.
“I like to play one-touch, two-touch,” Nkufo said. “We have time. It was our first game and we showed some good movement still today. The more games we play together, the better it will be.”
Celtic’s victory was the first after two losses on its current North American tour, and its first after three defeats in previous Seattle appearances.
However, with his club preparing for its Scottish Premier League season, manager Neil Lennon also wished Ward had kept his whistle out of his mouth and his red card in his pocket.
“Yeah, I thought the referee should’ve just let the goal stand as it was and common sense prevails, you know?” he said. “But I think he had already made the decision to give the penalty, and (according to) the laws of the game, the goalkeeper unfortunately had to go. But sometimes it’s worthwhile playing against 10 men to see how we adapt. But (we) probably would’ve preferred 11 v. 11 yeah.”
Ward later explained he blew his whistle at the time of contact because he did not feel the Celtic player was going to retain possession. And once the whistle is blown, he said Law 12 demands a red card for a keeper fouling in an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
With the friendly behind them, the Sounders will return to the serious business of MLS play Sunday, when Western Division rival Colorado visits.