By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE – When you’re hot, you’re hot.
The Seattle Sounders have won seven of their last eight matches, winning without as many as five starters, winning down to 10 men for more than 80 minutes, and beating rivals and doormats alike along the way.
Now they’ve won courtesy of an own goal, as well.
On Saturday night, the Sounders beat the Chicago Fire 2-1 in front of 38,503 at CenturyLink Field thanks to a late Gonzalo Segares miscue.
With less than two minutes to play and the game tied 1-1, late substitute Zach Scott rolled a short cross into the area toward Andy Rose at the near post. But a diving Rose couldn’t quite get a toe on the pass and it found Segares instead, deflecting off his shins and into his own net.
“It happens,” said Fire head coach Frank Klopas.
Chicago midfielder Alex unleashed a powerful shot in the waning moments of stoppage time, but it found only a mass of Seattle defenders clogging the area.
“We always talk,” said Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid, “about hitting those balls low across the box behind the defenders and you’ll never know what happens—it goes in off the defender, it goes in off one of our guys, who knows?”
The victory, Seattle’s fourth straight, lifts the Sounders (14-8-4, 46 points) into sole possession of second place in the Western Conference. They now trail Real Salt Lake (14-8-6, 48 points) by just two points in the Supporters’ Shield race with two games in hand.
Seattle hosts Real Salt Lake on Friday, and can secure the best record in the league with a victory. The Sounders are unbeaten in their last 12 home matches (9-0-3), and have only lost at CenturyLink Field once this year, in the season opener.
“It’s such a massive game for our fans to come out and see,” Schmid said. “This is what you live for, this is why you do sports. This is why we try to strive to do well, so you get opportunities like this.”
The loss leaves Chicago (10-11-5, 35 points) in seventh place in the Eastern Conference despite being one of the hottest teams in the league all summer. A victory would have leapfrogged them over the Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution for the fifth and final playoff spot.
“I felt the team played well—played really well—and definitely deserved to walk away with points from here,” Klopas said, “but that’s not how it goes sometimes, so we have to regroup.”
Chicago native Mike Magee opened the scoring in the 25th minute.
Dilly Duka slipped Magee behind the Sounders defense, and Magee took just a single touch to beat Gspurning for his 15th goal of the season and the 1-0 lead. Magee left the game at halftime with a groin injury.
“The whole combo, the play was fantastic,” said Klopas. “Dilly coming inside, playing the through ball. We had some very good moments where we were able to combine and play. I think when we started the game and we played to feet and we had good movement off the ball, we were very dangerous. And we scored a great goal.”
For a few minutes it seemed the Fire—at 0-5-3 the only team in the league that has never beaten the Sounders—might finally get a win against Seattle, but Lamar Neagle replied with his seventh goal of the season 15 minutes later.
In the 40th minute, goalkeeper Sean Johnson slapped a Mauro Rosales cross directly to Seattle midfielder Marc Burch, who quickly found Neagle at the top of the keeper’s box for a sweeping, one-touch goal from point-blank range.
“We had a good cross from the right side,” Neagle said. “The goalie came out and got a touch to it. Then I saw Burch wrapping back around and just stayed in the mix of things. As soon as I saw him touch it, I darted in front of the defender and just barely got a touch to it.”
The goal lifted Neagle into a tie with Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson for the team scoring lead.
The own goal wasn’t the only time the Fire tried to help the Sounders win the match.
In the 29th minute, Bakary Soumare gifted the Sounders a penalty kick with a clear handball on a corner kick, but Johnson came up with the save on Osvaldo Alonso’s low, driving shot.
“I was just trying to make a play and save it,” Johnson said. “It’s just one of those things where you get in there and you try to react and make a good decision. I think you can do one of two things—you can make your mind up or try to read and react and I just did the best I could to save a PK.”
Seattle came out flying despite playing its third match in eight days and missing Brad Evans to injury and both Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson to the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Obafemi Martins in particular created multiple early chances. Back from missing four matches with an ankle injury, the 29-year-old was active all night but perhaps showed a little rust in the penalty area.
In just the second minute, Martins worked himself free in the area, but Johnson came up with the save. Martins almost got loose on the counter moments later, but Soumare defended him well and rubbed the Nigerian off the ball at the last moment. In the 15th minute Martins blasted a chance from 12 yards out well over the crossbar.
Chicago responded well despite also missing players—Joel Linperre and Arevalo Rios—to international duties. In the sixth minute, Dilly Duka found Chris Rolfe in the center of the area on the counter, but Michael Gpsurning made a quality save to temporarily preserve his three-game shutout streak. It was the first of several good buildups that culminated in Magee’s goal.
Neither side created many chances in the second half, but the Sounders had what few opportunities there were. In the 83rd minute, Martins got on the end of a cross inside the penalty spot, but sent his header wide right. Two minutes later Neagle rifled a shot from the top of the area wide left.
Looking forward, the Fire visit Toronto FC (4-13-10, 22 points) on Wednesday, while Seattle hosts Real Salt Lake on Friday.
Here are the match highlights: