SEATTLE – When Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan was fouled just outside the FC Dallas penalty box in the 86th minute of the side’s Western Conference Semifinal matchup at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid knew that one of two men would step up to take the ensuing free kick.
On one side of the ball stood Andreas Ivanschitz, the sweet-footed Austrian who was brought in by the club this summer thanks in large part to his ability to hit pinpoint free kicks.
On the other was Clint Dempsey, Seattle’s star forward and franchise player who has put away many a set-piece goal during his run as an MLS, English Premier League and US national team standout.
“I was speaking with Ivanschitz, just trying to figure out who’s going to take it,” Dempsey told reporters after the game. “I was feeling confident and wanted the opportunity to try to help the team.”
In the end, it was Dempsey who ended up lining up the attempt – a call that would turn out to be the correct one. The 32-year-old striker hit a perfect shot over the FC Dallas wall, past ‘keeper Jesse Gonzalez and into the net, sending the Sounders to a comeback 2-1 first-leg victory.
“They talk about it,” Schmid said. “They’re good pros and Clint said, ‘Hey, I got this one. I feel it.’ And that’s when you’re really good at it. …There’s days where you feel it and days where you don’t and obviously Clint felt it.”
Dempsey’s teammates could only marvel at the latest instance of their Designated Player coming through in a crucial moment.
“That’s unbelievable,” said center back Zach Scott. “That’s the stuff he does in training and obviously he’s done it all year for us. But a free kick goal like that? As close as it was in – to get it to dip over the wall – that’s huge.”
Ivanschitz may not have ended up with the game-winning tally, but he still continued the run of recent form that has more than justified his summer acquisition.
He scored the game’s equalizing goal in the 67th minute on a brilliant individual effort after he managed to corral a long ball off the foot of Seattle ‘keeper Stefan Frei in the Dallas half of the field.
“His work rate has been tremendous in the playoffs,” Schmid said of Ivanschitz. “He also slid to the right side of midfield. But his ability to get up and down, to help us out defensively, to mark people on corners – he’s been a really good team guy in that regard.”
Seattle now take a 2-1 aggregate-goal lead into the second leg of the series next Sunday in Frisco, although it remains to be seen if they’ll be haunted by Fabian Castillo’s road goal they conceded in the 18th minute.
“We’re of the mindset that we can score on anybody,” Scott said. “We fully expect to go down to Dallas and play Sounders soccer. We attack and we try to win no matter where we go. We’re not going to sit back and sit on a 2-1 lead. We’re going to go to win.”