By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE (AP) - Not long ago, the Seattle Sounders found themselves needing to pick up as many points possible just to get back into playoff positioning.
Very quickly, the Sounders made up the ground and find themselves as the points leaders in Major League Soccer.
"We've kept climbing, kept climbing and now we're in first place. Now we've got to make sure we stay there and enjoy the view a little bit," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said.
Obafemi Martins scored just three minutes into the match to give Seattle an early lead, Lamar Neagle added a second goal in the 38th minute, and the Sounders took over the MLS points lead with a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake on Friday night.
The Sounders (15-8-4) vaulted past Salt Lake in the Western Conference standings and now sit atop the entire league with 49 points after their fifth straight victory. The Sounders are one-point ahead of RSL (14-9-6) and four ahead of the Eastern Conference trio of Montreal, New York and Sporting Kansas City with about six weeks remaining in the regular season. Seattle has also played two fewer games than Salt Lake.
It's a stark turn from Seattle's slumping start back in the spring when it took just two points from its first five matches. But Seattle has won eight of nine and still have games in hand on most of the league.
"It's tremendous, especially with what we've had to go through to get here," Seattle defender Zach Scott said.
Neagle scored in his third straight match and Seattle dominated the first half with U.S. national team stars Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey sitting on the bench as reserves.
Seattle improved to 38-0-8 in its last 46 matches when getting the first goal and are 8-0-2 all-time playing in front of crowds bigger than 40,000 at home. Friday's game was played before 55,107, the second-largest home crowd this season. And it very easily could have been a bigger victory with the Sounders failing to finish a number of chances or Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando making big saves.
Both teams were at nearly full strength following World Cup qualifying. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman and Rimando started for Salt Lake, even with Beckerman playing 90 minutes against Mexico on Tuesday. Seattle chose to bring Dempsey and Johnson off the bench after the pair played extensive minutes against both Costa Rica and Mexico.
Dempsey came on in the 61st minute replacing Marc Burch. It was just the second appearance at home for Dempsey since his signing in early August. Within 90 seconds of being on the field, Dempsey was chopped down by Ned Grabavoy, drawing a yellow card for the reckless tackle. Johnson came on in the 75th minute.
"The team has really been playing well and credit goes to them," Dempsey said. "That's a game that's easy to go into when it's 2-0."
By the time they got on the field, the Sounders were well on their way to victory.
"It's obviously a very scary situation. We're down two goals, and he brings on Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey," Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said.
Martins' goal was his eighth of the season and was a quick strike due to the hustle of midfielder Andy Rose. Martins' pass was close to going over the end line, but Rose was able to chase it down and place a perfect centering pass to Martins open in front of the net.
Neagle's eighth goal was created by the lengthy run from defender DeAndre Yedlin, who found open space along the right side. Yedlin carried into the penalty box and had the time to pick out Neagle making a move away from the goal and into the middle of the box where he was unmarked for the easy goal.
Seattle appeared to get a lucky break in the 80th minute when Javier Morales' free kick from distance cleared traffic in the penalty box and bounced into the stomach of Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, whose feet were in the goal. Officials ruled Gspurning kept the ball from fully crossing the goal line.
"If you're not sharp against a team like Seattle, they can really break, they're dangerous on the counter," Beckerman said. "That was the key tonight. We just weren't at our best. We lost to a team that's really good in their place, so credit to them."
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