TUKWILA, Wash. -- Fredy Montero led the Sounders with five shots. In the end, it wasn’t a shot he took, but a shot he couldn’t take that gave the Sounders FC a 1-0 win over the Kansas City Wizards to reach the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semifinal.
With time winding down on a scoreless game, the Sounders were growing frustrated by a mounting number of opportunities that they just couldn’t put away and an increasingly physical game with the Wizards. Stephen King got ahold of the ball at midfield and took off on the offensive. He saw Montero working his way into a clearing in the penalty box and bounced a pass his way.
Montero took a touch to his left to elude Kevin Hartman and got one step past the veteran Wizards keeper, but Hartman knocked Montero down to the turf. The 4,352 in attendance at Starfire shouted in unison as referee Abiodun Okulaja pointed to the spot signaling a penalty.
“I was able to just slip it in behind the defense to him. He made a good play and touched it by the keeper and the keeper took him down. We were unfortunate not to get a call earlier in the game, so having those non-calls earlier in the game, the ref had to give us that one,” said King, who scored the deciding goal in a 2-1 win against the USL Portland Timbers a week earlier to advance to the semifinal.
Sebastien Le Toux and Montero discussed who would take the pivotal shot, landing finally on Le Toux, a 72nd minute substitution into the grinding battle.
Le Toux stepped over the ball and twisted a shot into the low right corner, just outside the reach of Hartman to give Seattle the 1-0 lead in the 89th minute.
“I am always pushing myself to score. But what counts is that at least I forced the penalty that resulted in a score and that brought us to the semifinal,” Montero said. “It was a score and that’s all that matters.”
For Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid, the win marked a return to the semifinal after missing out on the tournament altogether in his last three years with the Columbus Crew.
“I was happy that we hung in there,” Schmid said. “I was happy that we played tough defensively, didn’t break down or give anything away. That allowed us to be in position, when we were awarded the penalty, to take advantage and get the win.”
The Sounders will face the Houston Dynamo on July 21 at Starfire at 7 pm in the semifinal.
Seattle outshot the Wizards 12-6 and Kasey Keller made the only save he needed to make in the 69th minute. But it was Montero’s penalty draw and Le Toux’s strike that made the difference.
Last year, when the USL Sounders faced the Wizards in the quarterfinals of the Open Cup, the scoreless match went to penalties. Le Toux stepped to the ball with a chance to give the Sounders the lead, but missed on his PK. The Sounders went on to win the game 6-5 on penalties to advance to the semifinal, where they lost to the Charleston Battery – again on penalties with Le Toux missing his penalty opportunity.
He says he wasn’t thinking about those misses when he stepped over the ball in the 89th minute of a scoreless tie and this time, he scored.
“If I think about missing, I’m going to miss, so I try not to think about that,” Le Toux said after he scored his 11th career Open Cup goal to earn the win. “Of course there was a little pressure, but I was confident. I was lucky that the keeper didn’t stop it and I scored.”
Like each of the last two years when the USL Sounders reached the semifinal, this year’s Sounders squad is two wins away from hoisting the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
“I think our guys for sure can smell it now,” Schmid said. “We’re basically two steps away from trying to bring a title to Seattle.”
The Sounders face the Dynamo Saturday at Qwest Field in MLS league play, before a semifinal rematch July 21 at Starfire.