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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sounders rally after disastrous first half, steal 2-2 draw in Houston

Seattle’s Obed Vargas breaks away from Houston’s Artur during the first half Wednesday at Shell Energy Stadium in Houston.  (Getty Images)
By Jayda Evans Seattle Times

Who needs goals from corner kicks when you have Albert Rusnak delivering off free kicks?

The Sounders midfielder had pinpoint service again Wednesday in what likely was a season-saving equalizer against Houston.

The Dynamo had two chances to get a winner in the 75th minute, but Sounders keeper Stefan Frei saved both close-range shots and the team stole a 2-2 draw at Shell Energy Stadium.

“Stole” is an odd term for a draw. That’s how poorly the Sounders (5-7-7) played in the opening half.

The sides expected a tropical storm to wreak havoc around the Houston area to be the biggest problem. Instead, for Seattle, it was Latif Blessing.

The midfielder capitalized on bad defending by Yeimar Gomez Andrade and Josh Atencio to give the Dynamo a 2-0 lead headed into halftime.

Blessing’s first goal was chested over the line in the 30th minute. Atencio tried a toe-poke to disrupt Amine Bassi’s possession in the box.

But the ball bounced behind Atencio, and Bassi regained control to send a low cross toward Blessing. The latter had to get even lower to get a body part on the ball, his chest working to direct the ball into goal behind Frei.

For the second, Blessing went high.

Yeimar headed a pass right at Houston. With the gifted possession, winger Ibrahim Aliyu lofted a cross to Blessing at the far post, the midfielder leaping for a pretty header in the 40th minute.

Houston had 60% possession and outshot Seattle 8-2 overall in the half. The numbers nearly flipped after the break.

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer subbed off Yeimar for Nouhou, and the team asserted itself in the game.

Paul Rothrock provided the early spark. The midfielder followed up his deflected attempt to get past keeper Steve Clark in the 57th minute. Rothrock has back-to-back goals.

Rusnak found his moment in the 63rd minute. The Sounders won a free kick with a good angle 20 yards outside the box.

Houston (6-6-6) left Jackson Ragen unmarked. The Sounders defender used the outside of his right foot to karate kick the attempt into goal, surprising Clark. It’s Ragen’s first career MLS goal.

Rusnak has two assists and a goal off free kicks in three of his past four games. He has seven assists overall.

Seattle improved to 5-2-2 in Houston. The Sounders return to Lumen Field to host FC Dallas on Saturday.

There were four lineup changes due to the short turnaround after last week’s home win against Minnesota and the injury to defender Alex Roldan. A new-look left wing featured midfielder Reed Baker-Whiting and defender Jon Bell. On the right, Rothrock slotted in on the wing with Cristian Roldan replacing his brother.

Alex Roldan collided with Minnesota defender Devin Padelford in the opening minute of the match and is under concussion protocol. Rothrock subbed on and netted a goal in the eventual 2-0 win.

The Sounders aren’t expecting Alex Roldan to have long-term issues. Cristian Roldan suffered two concussions last season and, with a late-season groin injury, he missed 18 matches overall.

“He’s in good spirits,” Cristian Roldan said Monday of his younger brother. “I think it’s something that will pass by pretty fast. … My case was very different. I wasn’t quite aware that I even had a concussion until the next morning.

“For him to be able to come out of the game and not be at any more risk makes me feel a lot better about how I perceive his concussion and concussions in general. They did the smart thing by pulling him out.”

Bell made his fourth start of the season. He was called up by Jamaica’s national team for the Copa America tournament and joined the team after the Sounders match. Jamaica group play Saturday against Mexico.

Houston played without midfielder Adalberto Carrasquilla, who was called up by Panama’s national team for Copa America.

Blessing slotted in as the only lineup change from last week. He’s has three goals in his past two matches, scoring an equalizer off the bench against Atlanta last week.