Martinez scores 30th goal in stoppage time, Atlanta winsAtlanta United's Josef Martinez runs down the field with his shirt off after scoring a goal against Orlando City during the second half of an MLS soccer match Friday, Aug. 24, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
A late-season surge is not unusual for the Seattle Sounders, who rallied the past two seasons and are now doing it again.
The Sounders have won seven straight, matching the record held by Sporting Kansas City in the post-shootout era. The team tied the mark with a 1-0 victory Sunday over the Timbers for Seattle's first win in Portland since 2014. The lone goal was a Kim Kee-hee shot that deflected off Timbers defender Julio Cascante and into the goal.
The victory pushed the Sounders over the line in the standings and into playoff contention in the Western Conference with nine games to go.
''It's really, really nice to finally find ourselves above the line now, it's a nice feeling and something we should take pride in after so much hard work we put in to climb out of that hole,'' goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. ''By no means is the job done. We have to keep going and keep pushing and prolong this streak as long as possible.''
The Sounders have followed the same script before. In 2016, the team parted ways with coach Sigi Schmid in the midst of a disappointing season then lost just two of their final 13 games to secure a spot in the playoffs. Seattle swept through the postseason and beat Toronto in the final for its first MLS Cup.
Last season, the Sounders went 5-7-4 at the start but rebounded by going undefeated in the next 13 games. Seattle claimed the second seed in the Western Conference and played through to the final, this time losing in the end to the Reds.
Because they played to the last day, the Sounders had a short offseason and then got off to a 5-9-5 start this season, made worse by Jordan Morris' season-ending ACL injury.
Forward Clint Dempsey was also beset by injury and on Wednesday announced his retirement from professional soccer, bringing to a close a stellar 15-year career that included seven years in the English Premier League.
But the team has found a way to overcome those injuries, including signing Peruvian forward and Liga MX scoring champion Raul Ruidiaz in late June.
''We've been on streaks before. It's about getting out of the (bad) streaks quickly, and prolonging the good ones for as long as you can and making the most of them,'' Frei said. ''We've found a way to prolong our streak. Because it doesn't get easier, you know? You gain confidence, yes, but it gets more and more difficult.''
GAME OF THE WEEK: That leads us to this week's game to watch: Saturday afternoon's match between the Sounders and Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field.
Sporting, which sits atop the Western Conference, has won four straight - all shutouts - coming into the game. The team blanked Minnesota 2-0 at Children's Mercy Park last Saturday for goalkeeper Tim Melia's league-leading 11th clean sheet of the season.
Kansas City has outscored opponents 8-0 over the run of consecutive shutouts, the longest for the club since 2013.
But Sporting is wary of Seattle.
''(It will be a) really difficult game in a difficult environment against a team that's kind of got the ball rolling as they always do at the end of the year,'' Melia said. ''Nothing changes for us. We're going in there. We've got to play our game.''
Adding to the drama: The Sounders plan to honor Dempsey before the match.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez was voted Player of the Week after he set the league's single-season scoring record with a goal against Orlando City last Friday. United won the match 2-1.
Martinez now has 28 goals, breaking the mark of 27 held by Roy Lassiter (1996), Chris Wondolowski (2012) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (2014). There are eight games remaining on Atlanta's schedule, so chances are good he'll pad the record. He had 28 goals in 26 matches this season.
Martinez, 25, scored the record breaker in the 74th minute. Afterward he doffed his jersey, holding it up to Orlando City's stadium before he was mobbed by his teammates.
''No, I don't have the ball, but I am going to save the shoes,'' he said afterward. ''I will not play in those cleats again.''