Not that a Seattle-Portland contest needs ginning up; it’s the top rivalry in Major League Soccer by a long, long way.
Still, it was Clint Dempsey’s home debut, adding further theater to the sold-out night at CenturyLink Field, where the league’s second largest crowd ever for a stand-alone match was there to watch. Here’s a quick timeline of how things went for Dempsey, now the league’s highest paid man:
Pre-match: ESPN’s Alexi Lalas talks to Dempsey just before warm-ups, asking the U.S. captain if he’s nervous? Looking calm as a man waiting for the bait and tackle shop to open on some sleepy Wednesday morning, Dempsey says: “I wouldn’t say nervous, I’m excited. Any time you get a chance to play before in front of 66,000 67,000 fans, it’s a dream come true. That’s what you dream about as a little kid.”
He also tells Lalas that he’s not worried about anyone who says the ol’ career is moving the wrong way with a move back to MLS. Dempsey says he’s doing what’s best for his family. And you can tell the man means it. So there.
Lineups: Dempsey is operating as a second striker, tucked behind Eddie Johnson in a fairly standard 4-4-2. We still do not know how Sounders’ manager Sigi Schmid will arrange things once Obafemi Martins is healthy, because the club’s other DP striker remains injured.
2nd minute: Dempsey’s first meaningful touch. The crowd gasps audibly. (It’s not like the guy is a sorcerer; he’s not going to spin magic with every touch, guys.)
8th minute: Dempsey’s free kick from shooting range goes well high and wide. He has hit some gorgeous dead balls before. In fact, Dempsey’s 23rd goal back in that breakout 2011-12 season for Fulham, also his milepost 50th career Premier League goal, was a free kick special.
25th minute: The game is fast, and Dempsey is finding his touches – although perhaps a little too far from goal. He is arriving into pockets 40-or-so yards from goal. At the other end, Portland is getting the better chances. Uh, they know this is Dempsey’s night, right?
26th minute: Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts spills a simple cross. Dempsey nearly gets chopped in half as he charges in for the rebound. It’s a tough tackle, but probably fair. And they say the Premier League is physical!
35th minute: The stats show each team with three shots. Well, phooey on stats; Only some good work from Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning and the goal post is keeping Portland off the board.
Halftime: Dempsey’s heavy touch on a burst through the middle in the 36th was his best chance. Ricketts, who is roughly the size of a snow cone stand that Dempsey would have visited as a kid back in East Texas, got in the way of that one.
Plus, Dempsey does not look 100 percent comfortable on the artificial surface. No surprise there; he hated the stuff going back to his days in New England. In all honesty, though, Eddie Johnson’s blonde ‘do is probably just as distracting as the turf.
60th minute: Johnson helps make sure Dempsey’s home debut is not bust, beating Ricketts with a glancing header off Mauro Rosales’ sharp free kick delivery. Dempsey, by the way, once drove three-plus hours as a high school kid to train with FC Dallas; Johnson was an FCD man then, hence the pair’s still-strong friendship.
69th minute: Portland’s defense looks increasingly rickety. Dempsey put Lamar Neagle through with a well-weighted ball, almost gets onto a corner kick and then tries a flying kung fu maneuver near goal, all within about 90 seconds.
The big adjustment: Shalrie Joseph was subtracted shortly after the break for the far more attack-minded Mauro Rosales, and it all changed or Seattle. With Rosales creating from wide areas, Dempsey was able to play closer to goal, and closer to Johnson, causing problems for the Portland center backs who had been way too comfortable before Schmid’s alterations.
80th minute: Why, that sly fox! Dempsey dashes across the middle and, from about 30 yards, unleashing an unexpected left-footer with no wind-up whatsoever. Ricketts does quite well stretch and push the low shot just wide. It is Dempsey’s closest brush with scoring Sunday.
Final whistle: Not bad from Dempsey, although no bottom-line production. Which is fine, so long as Seattle is winning. What the U.S. captain told Lalas post-game: “It felt good. I got some good touches. Got some looks on goal. Most important, we got three points, so I’m happy about that.
And on the rave green atmosphere of CenturyLink? “Good atmosphere,” he said. “Some tackles flying in. A little bit reckless I thought. But at the end of the day, we showed a lot of character. Like I said, we got three points.”