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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Paul Rothrock helps Sounders celebrate 50th anniversary match with 2-0 win

Jayda Evans Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Paul Rothrock tipped his head back and screamed in celebration of his first MLS goal of the season. The hard-fought finish in the 57th minute was after a determined give-and-go play on the right side of the penalty box between midfielder Obed Vargas and winger Leo Chu that created Rothrock’s left-footed score at the mouth of goal.

But the 2-0 lead against Minnesota United didn’t bring much relief to the 31,026 in attendance at Lumen Field. That didn’t come until referee Rosendo Mendoza blew the final whistle on the chilly Saturday night.

In the previous four Sounders matches, the team has conceded goals in the dying minutes, most recently losing on the road to Sporting Kansas City. So, excuse anyone for needing assurances they couldn’t be duped a fifth time.

Instead, Rothrock helped ensure Seattle’s second home win this season — a 2-0 shutout.

“We owed the fans a performance like that one,” Sounders forward Jordan Morris said.

Rothrock subbed on in the seventh minute for Alex Roldan. The right back knocked heads with Minnesota defender Devin Padelford, and both immediately collapsed onto the field in the opening seconds of the match. Both were placed under concussion protocol, attacker Jordan Adebayo-Smith subbing on for Padelford in the eighth minute.

Schmetzer shifted Cristian Roldan back to replace his brother and placed Rothrock on the right wing.

“Is he the best player on our squad? No,” Schmetzer said. “But [Saturday] he was the most important. And he did that because his training that last couple of weeks has been way up here [high]. … He was sniffing for an opportunity because he understood the team wasn’t playing well. He was going to be ready when the coach called his number.”

The third-year pro brought an immediate spark. Rothrock drew a foul in the 27th minute that ultimately resulted in Seattle’s opening goal.

Sounders midfielder Albert Rusnak delivered the perfect assist off the ensuing free kick and Morris used his strong frame to rise above Minnesota’s defense and head in the attempt in the 28th minute.

It was Morris’ fourth goal in his past five games. He has five goals overall this season while Rusnak has six assists.

Morris sprinted to Rusnak for a hug as part of his celebration. Then the entire lineup — including keeper Stefan Frei — sat in a circle on the wet turf and appeared to throw dice in an imaginary card game. The players beamed smiles as they rose and got in position for the restart.

Minnesota entered the match third in Western Conference standings but has only beaten Seattle once since joining MLS in 2017. The Loons (8-4-5) had multiple looks against the Sounders’ defense yet couldn’t put anything on frame.

They played down a man for the final five minutes. Mendoza showed midfielder Moses Nyeman a red card after VAR spotted a “serious foul” in his tackle against Rusnak where his studs were up in contact with Rusnak’s calf. The latter remained in the game until stoppage time.

Rothrock’s goal helped Seattle (5-7-6) inch above the playoff line. The team is tied with rival Portland with 21 points. The tiebreaker, if the postseason were to start today, is goal differential — Seattle now having one to the Timbers zero.

“Paul did exactly what was needed in the game,” Schmetzer said. “Kudos to [him] for being ready.”

The Sounders inducted the inaugural 1974 roster into their new Eternal Circle of Legends. The pregame ceremony was part of the club reveling in 50 years of existence as the Sounders through multiple leagues and owners, joining MLS in 2009.

Players — eight who are still living — and families from the team were presented with black jackets to commemorate the honor. There were about 120 alumni players representing every team on the field at one point as part of the festivities, the group forming the tunnel for the walkout for the game’s starting XI.

“This is super humbling,” Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer told the alumni. “Thank you to all of you for everything you have given this city, this community. You really don’t understand how much you’ve influenced all of us.”

Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz was benched as part of a starting lineup change. Schmetzer started Chu on the wing with Morris up top because of Minnesota’s big center backs, the coach said.

Ruidiaz has seven goals, but last scored in a road win against Portland in May.

“Jordan was just the right fit and it turned out to be OK,” Schmetzer said.

Minnesota played without strikers Teemu Pukki (knee) and Tani Oluwaseyi, who was called up by his Canadian national team.

The Sounders have a quick turnaround to prepare for a road match against the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday.