SEATTLE — Only one result would do Sunday.
As Sounders FC faced a bitter rival of almost 40 years and drew another record home crowd, as flags waved and bellowing chants filled CenturyLink Field, only a win would suffice.
Eddie Johnson scored in the 60th minute on a finely placed free-kick by Mauro Rosales, and that was all the hosts would need in front of 67,385, the largest soccer crowd this city has ever seen, to earn a 1-0 win against the Portland Timbers.
The Sounders’ fourth win in five games and the home debut of U.S. national team star Clint Dempsey drew the second-largest attendance in MLS history for a game that wasn’t part of an international doubleheader. It was also one of the five largest crowds across the world over the weekend.
Seattle (11-8-4) improved to 3-1-3 against the Timbers in the MLS era of a rivalry that dates to 1975 in the old North American Soccer League. The Sounders lead the series 42-28-11 all-time.
The win was secured on a familiar combination, as Rosales curled in a picturesque cross that Johnson rose high to head past goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
Johnson has been especially dangerous in the rivalry with four goals in five games against Portland, most among active players. Overall, his 61 career MLS goals are tied for 22nd in league history.
Rosales earned his team-high sixth assist on the play after entering as a second-half substitute. His 32 career assists rank second in the franchise record books behind Fredy Montero’s 34.
Portland had a chance to equalize in the 88th minute, but Darlington Nagbe’s blistering shot from distance was tipped away on a diving effort by goalkeeper Michael Gspurning. A couple heart-stopping headers in stoppage time went safely into the hands of Gspurning as the Timbers (9-4-12) went their sixth-straight road game without a win.
The Sounders are 5-0 in front of home crowds over 55,000, with a 12-1 goal differential.
The teams were scoreless at halftime despite a flurry of scoring chances and five shots apiece.
Portland had the first good look on a fourth-minute header by Jack Jewsbury, but as the ball sailed to the far post it was cleared off the goal line by Seattle defender DeAndre Yedlin.
The Timbers had a breakaway in the 16th minute, when Diego Valeri sprung forward Ryan Johnson behind the defense, but Gspurning came off his line well to snuff out the danger.
Valeri, the orchestrator of the visitors’ attack, tried his own luck in the 35th minute, but fired a long-range shot off the crossbar. Johnson couldn’t connect cleanly on the rebound chance.
The Sounders had an early chance off their own, but midfielder Shalrie Joseph couldn’t finish an open header at the back post, a play set up by Brad Evans on a free kick.
Dempsey nearly got free in the 37th minute in the penalty box, but Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts intervened before a shot could be taken.
• Sounders FC next travels to face Columbus on Saturday, which is followed by three-straight home games.
• Leading scorer Obafemi Martins missed his second-straight game for Seattle with a sprained ankle. For the Timbers, captain Will Johnson was out with a shoulder injury and midfielder Diego Chara was suspended due to yellow-card accumulation.
• The Sounders host their other Pacific Northwest rival, Vancouver, in an MLS Reserve League game at 7 p.m. PDT Monday.
• Seattle defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado played his 97th league game Saturday. He’s in line to be the fourth in franchise history to reach 100.
• There was a new banner up in the stadium: “Dempseyland” written in the font of Disneyland. Before the game, the Emerald City unfurled a huge display in the south end of the stadium with the caption “Build a Bonfire” with Sounders standouts shown in a heroic blaze of glory.
• Sounders FC is 35-0-8 when scoring the game’s first goal (10-0-2 this season), the longest active unbeaten run in MLS dating to the end of 2010. The league record is 58 games set by New York.
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