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.
And Seattle delivered.
Eddie Johnson scored in the 60th minute off 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 physical 1-0 win against the Portland Timbers.
The Sounders’ fourth win in five games, which featured 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.
“We knew what we had to do for the fans,” said goalkeeper Michael Gspurning. “We wanted to win so badly.”
It was clearly a shared feeling. Midfielder Brad Evans said he had never been so emotional before a game and was nearly moved to tears when he saw he was featured on a massive pregame display from supporters in the stadium’s south end.
“We’re always asked questions about those games that you remember,” said Evans. “Obviously this will be one of them.”
Seattle (11-8-4) improved to 3-1-3 against Portland 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.
Much attention coming into the game had been on the Timbers (9-4-12) being higher the standings for the first time this late into a season in the MLS era. That was quickly forgotten afterward as Seattle leapfrogged ahead in average points per game.
“The one thing I know for certain is that we beat Portland — period,” said defender Zach Scott, who has figured in the rivalry for more than a decade.
“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 win was secured on a familiar combination, as Rosales curled in a picturesque cross that Johnson rose high to head past goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts for his fourth goal in five games in the head-to-head series, most among active players. The two have combined for eight goals the past two years.
“I did what I get paid to do — score goals in the box,” said Johnson, whose 61 career MLS goals are tied for 22nd in league history.
Rosales earned his team-high sixth assist on the play after entering as an instant-impact 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 Gspurning. A couple of heart-stopping headers in stoppage time went safely into the goalkeeper’s hands as the Timbers went their sixth straight road game without a win.
The Sounders, who have not lost in 10 straight at home, are 5-0 in front of crowds over 55,000 with a 12-1 goal differential.
“At the end of the day,” said Dempsey, “I thought we had more quality and we deserved to win.”