Photo by Jane Gershovich/Soccer By Ives
By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE – It took almost seven weeks, but the Seattle Sounders sure picked a good time to get back to their winning ways.
The Sounders rode goals from Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson to a 2-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids in the Western Conference knockout round on Wednesday night, setting up a mouth-watering second round matchup against the Portland Timbers.
The win in front of 32,204 at CenturyLink Field advances Seattle to face the top-seeded Timbers in the conference semifinals. The two-leg, aggregate-goal series begins Saturday night in Seattle, with a second leg scheduled for Nov. 7 at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland.
It was not, despite the scoreline, an easy win.
The Sounders started the match playing some of their best soccer in weeks, capitalizing on a rare bit of roster continuity and a second-straight match featuring a diamond midfield formation to put the Colorado defense under consistent pressure.
“I thought we created a number of good chances,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. “I thought we played some very good soccer, I thought we had more of the game in the first half.”
Evans opened the scoring in the 28th minute after a Colorado defender headed a Leo Gonzalez cross toward the far corner of the penalty area. Evans chested down the clearance and whistled a half-volley into the upper corner of the net for the 1-0 lead.
“It was actually something I thought about a little today,” Evans said. “I thought that I was going to score on a volley and I was just hoping it was going to come true. The ball came across and I was able to chest it down. When I saw a little bit of a gap I was able to get good contact on the ball and find the back of the net.”
Johnson added the insurance goal in stoppage time with his team down a man, his starting goalkeeper ejected, and his defense surviving more than a couple nervous moments.
In the 93rd minute, Johnson stepped into a pass into the area from Clint Dempsey. The 29-year-old forward then took one touch to nutmeg defender German Mera, and just one more to scoot a shot past goalkeeper Clint Irwin for the 2-0 lead.
“I knew it was going to be a physical game,” said Johnson, “and I knew it was going to be a difficult game. But I was in it, I was focused for 90 minutes, and when my opportunity came I made the best of it.”
Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning was ejected with a straight red for handling the ball outside the penalty area in the 85th minute, but Colorado couldn’t capitalize in the remaining eight minutes.
The Rapids began to turn the tide of the match well before Gspurning’s ejection, but could never find the equalizer.
Gspurning came up with a big save in the 57th minute, snagging a Deshorn Brown shot that looked sure to curl into the upper corner.
In the 68th minute, Gspurning mishandled a Rapids free kick, leaving the ball lurking dangerously in the center of the area with bodies everywhere, but defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado stepped in with the clearance.
In the 88th minute, Vicente Sanchez unleashed a rocket of a free kick from 19 yards out, just grazing the top of Seattle’s wall for a corner kick. Hendry Thomas got a clean header on the ensuing corner, but sent it just over the crossbar.
The loss means history won’t repeat itself for fifth-seeded Colorado, which also entered the 2010 playoffs as the fifth seed before eventually winning the MLS Cup.
“If you ask me today, I feel terrible,” said Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja. “I’m not happy, obviously. I can see great things that happened in the season, but we are competitors here and obviously there is some bitter[ness] in this result.”
“It was disappointing,” added Rapids captain Drew Moor. “I’m certainly proud of the boys for leaving it all out on the field. I think for one thing, I wish we would have started off a little brighter. [It was] a playoff game—it’s different. If we start the game the way we finished the second half, I think we give ourselves a little better chance.”
The win leaves the Sounders looking forward to perhaps the two most important matches in their decades-long rivalry with the Portland Timbers.
“I think everybody had their mind on it, even looking at the Colorado game,” admitted Evans. “Regardless of if we wanted to focus on this game, there was always that chance you will be playing Portland in the next round. That [was] obviously on the back of everybody’s mind.”
Here are the match highlights: