SEATTLE — Clint Dempsey hasn’t fluently articulated exactly what the Seattle-Portland rivalry means to him.
“It’s the team, really,” is as close as Dempsey would come to bulletin-board material after the 82nd meeting between the Sounders and Timbers on Sunday. “We get up for the games and fight hard.”
But if one ever needs visual proof of how much Dempsey relishes reminding Portland of its status in a series it now trails 43-29-10 dating to 1975, run back his reaction to the final whistle of Sunday night’s game.
Dempsey’s point had been made with a pair of goals long before referee Alan Kelly blew time on Seattle’s 3-1 victory over Portland in front of 53,302 at CenturyLink Field on Sunday evening.
But the veteran chose to underline it with a flourish, kicking the ball skyward and dragging his thumb across his neck.
If every good rivalry needs a willing instigator, Dempsey dons the black hat with mischievous enthusiasm this series hasn’t seen since Roger Levesque retired.
“I think Clint likes to score goals,” interim Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I think Clint likes to win. I don’t know that I would classify him a villain. Certainly, (Portland) might think so.
“Clint is a big-time player. He rises up in big-time games, if you look at the games he’s had for his club, for his country. He’s a big-time player, and he obviously delivered tonight.”
Dempsey netted one from the penalty spot and the other from the edge of the box, lifting his goal-scoring total to eight in seven career league matches against the Timbers.
He made up for not only the PK he had missed last weekend against Real Salt Lake but also for missing the first meeting of the season last month at Providence Park due to yellow-card suspension.
Dempsey’s only regret was that he hadn’t buried the golden opportunity put on a platter by Jordan Morris’ centering pass early in the second half.
“I could have had a few more tonight,” Dempsey said. “I’m upset with myself for missing the one Jordan played into me. Earlier in the season, I feel like that would’ve been the only goal I got all game, whereas now, I feel like if I miss a good chance, I’m going to have a few more.”
Like any good rivalry match, this was a game of multiple acts.
The first half was divided into three: 15 minutes of Sounders control, 15 minutes of Timbers rebuttal and 15 minutes of biting ankles and throwing elbows. After the break the Sounders gradually assumed command.
Cristian Roldan also played a starring role, albeit with slightly less provocative one.
Roldan won the penalty kick that set up Dempsey’s first goal, was credited with the assist on his second and scored Seattle’s last one himself.
With the win, Seattle (9-12-3) has edged two points behind Portland for the Western Conference’s final playoff berth — with a midweek game at last-place Houston before the rematch next Sunday afternoon at Providence Park.