Talk the past week was about the return of the Sounders FC stars.
But in the end it was the steady midfielder who’s been with the club throughout a recent MLS break who stole the show against Atlanta United.
Warming up with a half-dozen shot attempts, Harry Shipp bounced a perfect header into the net in the 71st minute Sunday to give the Sounders a 2-1 victory against the defending league champions at CenturyLink Field.
“I felt like it was kind of in the air forever,” Shipp said of darting to the back post to receive a crossing assist from forward Jordan Morris.
“I was just waiting on it,” Shipp said of the play that began with a touch from center midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro. “By the time it actually got to me, I knew the goalie had slid across and (a defender) got back of the line, so I was just trying to put it back across them and luckily it went in.”
The goal is Shipp’s third of the season. The score also extended the Sounders’ home unbeaten streak to 13 games.
“When he came on in our last match, he sparked that,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of using Shipp as a substitute in a 2-1 road victory at Columbus. “Whether it’s tactical, injuries or whatever (reason), I know what I get with Harry and today he was rewarded with a goal.”
The scoring didn’t break open until the second half. Seattle forward Raul Ruidiaz maximized his 5-foot-7 frame to corral an assist from midfielder Cristian Roldan, boot it over Atlanta defender Leonardo Gonzalez Pirez’s head and control the rebound to kick it into the net past keeper Brad Guzan in the 58th minute.
As Ruidiaz leaped over a barrier behind the goal to celebrate with the Emerald City Supporters, a cannon of flames shot upward to provide the only in-real-life emoji to depict the play.
“It was an incredible goal,” said Ruidiaz as translated from Spanish. “Very similar to my first goal I scored here in MLS against San Jose. … It’s not that I plan doing goals like that. The opportunity presented itself and thanks to God, I had the opportunity to do what I did and it was a beautiful goal.”
The score is Ruidiaz’s seventh of the season and Roldan’s second assist this year. Both were making their first starts since a June 1 defeat at Dallas. Ruidiaz left the Sounders to join his Peruvian national team for the Copa America, losing in the final week.
Roldan and Morris joined the U.S national team to compete in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which U.S. lost to Mexico for the title.
As soon as the flames died down from Ruidiaz’s goal, Atlanta forward Josef Martinez scored off a corner kick assist from Pity Martinez in the 65th minute. It was his ninth goal in his past six matches.
“Their goal was out of the run of play,” Roldan said. “We thought we were maintaining them and keeping possession and being dangerous in the attack and all of a sudden they score a goal on the counter-attack and it’s deflating.
“We could’ve easily shrugged our shoulders and said, ‘All right, we’re going to end this game in a tie.’ Jordan being willing to press a little higher up the field (to set up Shipp) was the game-changer.”
On a lush new field during a warm summer afternoon, the Sounders (10-5-5) sent out their best after missing up to 10 players the past month due to national team call-ups and injuries. It was an anticipated matchup between clubs that have won two of the past three league titles. For Seattle, it also kicked off a big three-game week when it will play host to German club Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday and rival Portland on Sunday.
Not a five-minute stretch went by in the opening half without either team taking an acrobatic strike at the goal and the other contorting for an impressive defense.
Early on it was Ruidiaz and Shipp for Seattle. In the 25th minute, it was United midfielder Julian Gressel with a shot from an awkward angle that grazed the front of the goal.
In the 29th minute, Roldan was one-on-one with Guzan, the latter collecting his first of four saves.
Shipp had another seemingly clear shot but a slight hesitation allowed Atlanta defender Miles Robinson to sprint from the backfield for the deflection in the 32nd minute. Guzan hugged and ruffled Robinson’s hair in a show of gratitude.
Atlanta (9-8-3) had a free kick that midfielder Pity Martinez couldn’t connect in the 38th minute and so the opening half went.
“I should’ve scored at least one in the first half and at halftime I was pissed at myself,” said Shipp, who had six attempts in the match, two on-target. “I told myself that next chance I got, I was going to score. Luckily I got another chance to redeem myself a little bit (and) it got the team a win.”
Seattle and Atlanta were deadlocked in two previous meetings. Although evenly matched Sunday, the United entered the game at CenturyLink worn down from a U.S. Open Cup victory against Saint Louis FC on Wednesday and didn’t have midfielder Jeff Larentowicz due to a red card.
The Sounders were without Víctor Rodríguez (left hamstring) and midfielder Joevin Jones (paternity leave).
“It’s a big win,” Shipp said. “We talk about spring-boarding the second half of the year and this was the first game with a lot of guys back. For us, establishing that winning culture, winning mentality with everyone back is big for us.”