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Sounders settle for tie with Atlanta as unbeaten streak continues

UPDATED: Sun., May 23, 2021

By Jayda Evans Seattle Times

Aggressive from the start, Atlanta was able to work a foul out of the Sounders late to sneak off with a 1-1 draw at Lumen Field on Sunday.

The Sounders are on a seven-match unbeaten streak, which is a franchise best for a start. But in a match where Seattle (5-0-2) was strong defensively for nearly the entire game, the outcome had the feel of a loss.

Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz connected on precision corner kick from teammate Joao Paulo for a score off a header in the sixth minute. The play was Ruidiaz’s sixth goal of the season and the fourth assist of the year for Joao Paulo, second in as many weeks on a set piece.

Defender Nouhou helped the Sounders open the match with unrelenting, physical play. The Five Stripes dominated ball possession but couldn’t find the pockets within the Rave Green defense to tuck in a score.

Atlanta looked like they were building a simple score for forward Josef Martinez in the 38th minute. But Nouhou stretched to kick the cross off its path inches outside the keeper’s box. Teammate Yeimar Gomez Andrade was able to recover from an earlier slip to boot the ball out of danger.

Another attempt for the Five Stripes — a header by Erik Lopez in the 45th minute — was saved by Sounders keeper Stefan Cleveland dead center of the goal.

Sounders defender Xavier Arreaga chased down a strong counter in the 65th minute. The ensuing corner kick failed.

But a foul by Sounders defender Brad Smith in the 85th minute provided the opportunity Atlanta needed to score. Martinez took the penalty kick in the 86th minute, his elaborate lead-up to the kick luring Cleveland to misjudge the direction of the shot. Martinez, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opening match of 2020, collected his second goal of this season.

The Sounders had a bump in attendance to 11,011 people because of two vaccinated sections that gave the sense of pushing forward through the COVID-19 pandemic to a traditional soccer atmosphere at Lumen Field.

The club has been active in the national push to get people vaccinated with two, appointment-free vaccination hubs during matches at Lumen Field. On Sunday, the club unveiled seating for vaccinated people in The Brougham End, which is designated seating for the Emerald City Supporters, and the upper northeast portion of the approximate 60,000-seat stadium.

Although the fans were loud enough to hear before, the return of drums and tifo were comforting returns to the Sounders fan experience. The ECS tifo read “Meant to be Together” and was unfurled before kickoff. Later the section celebrated goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s 1,000th save with a banner that read “Sweet Stefan Frei 1,000 saves never felt so good.”

Frei was in attendance with midfielder Jordy Delem, both suffering knee injuries earlier this month. Frei is expected to return within four to six weeks. Cleveland replaced the two-time league champ in goal for a second consecutive game, collecting one save.

MLS restricted travel amid the pandemic in 2020, the Sounders only playing two Eastern Conference teams last year, including the MLS Cup loss to Columbus Crew. Seattle last played Atlanta in July 2019, defeating the then-defending league champions 2-1 at Lumen Field.

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