Obafemi Martins struck a brace but was later sent off in the Seattle Sounders FC’s 3-2 win at the Chicago Fire.
The 29-year-old had given the Sounders a two-goal lead in a bizarre match, and with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado having seen red they were in pole position. Harry Shipp pulled one back before Martins was also directed to the dressing room.
Lamar Neagle thought he’d wrapped the game up, but Shipp added a second for a nervy ending.
The visitors moved seven points clear at the top of the division with this win, at least until the later kick off between Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers, while retaining their unbeaten record against the Fire.
It took just five minutes for Marco Pappa to have his first shot on target against his former club, and seconds later he played Martins in on goal. The Nigerian’s pace took him away from the Chicago defence and he rounded Sean Johnson, but incredibly fired wide with the goal gaping.
Seattle continued to look bright but were halted by a series of rugged challenges from Fire defenders until just after the half-hour mark, when Martins atoned for his earlier error by putting the finishing touch on a lovely team move.
Gonzalo Pineda played a perfect pass out to Chad Barrett, who laid the ball off for Brad Evans. The Sounders captain delivered a low cross that the former Newcastle United forward brought under his spell before drilling past Johnson on the turn.
Evans again burst forward to deliver in the 37th minute and Hurtado, who had failed to deal with the original centre, lunged at Martins to concede a penalty and his second yellow card.
The former Rave Green man took some time to leave the pitch, such was his devastation, but Seattle’s goal-scorer had already grabbed the ball.
Martins has a mixed record with penalties throughout his career and scuffed this one, but it found the corner.
Chicago could have gone down to ten men seconds later as Chris Ritter went in hard, but another twist lay in store as Shipp, an early tip for Rookie of the Year, slalomed his way past Evans and Chad Marshall and placed his shot into the far corner to make it 2-1.
The drama was far from over though, as Martins then saw red for an off-the-ball incident concerning Benji Joya. He too had to be restrained as he left the field of play, shortly before struggling referee Chris Penso brought the first half to a close.
Six minutes after the restart, Barrett found space in the area to meet Neagle’s in-swinging cross, but his downwards header bounced clear of the cross-bar.
Neagle then had his own opportunity, running onto a through-ball, turning away from Gonzalo Segares and unleashing a powerful drive that Johnson did well to tip over.
The American stopper’s opposite number Stefan Frei had to be equally athletic to deny a Jeff Larentowicz header.
And after the resulting corner was taken short and fell Quincy Amarikwa’s way, he had to make an even better stop – grasping the 26-year-old’s volley from point-blank range.
Without Martins’ industry, the team from the Emerald City were starved of an outlet upfront, and the Fire appeared in prime position to take something from the game with 20 minutes remaining.
But after a spell of pressure from the home side, the Sounders restored their two-goal lead on the break.
Pappa crossed towards substitute Kenny Cooper and the ball dropped to Neagle. The former Montreal Impact winger took his time to bring the ball down and slam an unstoppable effort into the top corner.
Shipp was determined not to concede the game though, and once more brought Chicago back into it with a stunner. Collecting the ball from Amarikwa, he unleashed a screamer that flew beyond Frei into the roof of the net.
A combination of tiring legs and the double dismissal meant play had become stretched, with plenty of space for either attack to exploit.
The Fire worked the ball well to slip in Amarikwa, but he again came out second best in his personal battle with the Rave Green goalkeeper.
As the two sides scrapped in stoppage time, Penso seemed to lose his head – handing out yellow cards to any offence. Fortunately, he had the sense to bring an ill-tempered affair to an end before there were any further ejections.
Seattle will now face PSA Elite in the fourth round of the US Open Cup, while Chicago are up against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.