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Sounders play high-scoring Atlanta to 0-0 tie
By MARK MOSCHETTI
SEATTLE (AP) Tony Alfaro didn't have time to get nervous. He only had time to get ready for a starting role.
Playing with two defenders who hadn't seen a minute of MLS action this season - Alfaro being one - the Seattle Sounders dealt high-scoring Atlanta United its first shutout of the year on Friday night, battling to a 0-0 tie.
The Sounders (1-1-2, 5 points) already had Jordy Delem on the lineup card for his first MLS game when they scratched central defensive stalwart Chad Marshall just a few minutes before kickoff because of an illness. He was replaced by Alfaro.
"It was very unfortunate Chad wasn't feeling well. But at the same time, I always come into every game preparing as if I'm going to play," Alfaro said. "Today, I got the chance. I was just happy I could help the team get the shutout."
That shutout was Seattle's first of the season. It came against an Atlanta team (2-1-1, 7 points) that had scored 11 goals through its first three games, just one behind league-leading Portland.
Regular defenders Joevin Jones and Gustav Svensson joined Alfaro and Delem on the Sounders' back line.
"They all played hard, with the right amount of aggression, without getting themselves into trouble," Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said. "Positionally, they were very sound. As individuals, they defended well, and as a group, they defended well."
United forward Josef Martinez, with an MLS-high five goals, was sidelined after he injured his left quadriceps while playing for Venezuela in a World Cup qualifying game last week.
"I know Atlanta was missing its leading scorer, but it's still a very potent team," Schmetzer said.
Seattle's Stefan Frei preserved the shutout in the 87th minute when he dived to stop a 22-yard shot from straight on by Miguel Almiron. Frei also came up big in the 12th minute when he went down and stripped the ball off the left foot of Hector Villalba at the top left corner of the penalty area.
"They came out fired up, and they were really pressing us," Alfaro said. "They were preventing us from coming out of the back. But we got more rhythm throughout the game."
The Sounders, who have a 10-game regular-season home unbeaten streak dating to July 9, had two near misses. In the eighth minute, Cristian Roldan ran onto a cross from Jordan Morris, but sent it just wide of the left post from inside the 6-yard box.
In the 58th minute, Clint Dempsey had a header from 6 yards in front that bounced off the crossbar. Coming off a four-goal performance in two World Cup qualifying games for the United States last week, Dempsey entered as a substitute in the 57th minute.
Despite being kept off the board, Atlanta coach Gerardo Martino was happy to grind out a point.
"To tie on the road with the reigning champion is definitely a positive," he said. "When the games are difficult and competitive, we learned tonight that we can fight and we can be in these games. I thought we played well in the first half, but in the second half, Seattle kind of dominated us, with the exception of a couple counterattacks."
Updated April 1, 2017