After a 180-minute battle over the two legs of the series, two of the top defensive teams in the MLS held each other scoreless. Then in the 96th minute Sunday, Brian Ching scored the series-winning goal on a spectacular volley.
“It was either going to take a big mistake or a big effort and unfortunately we couldn’t quite make it happen. Not for lack of effort, you can’t fault anybody. They gave everything they had,” said goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who finished with four saves. “We battled and battled and just couldn’t quite make it happen. Maybe another day.”
Houston came out on the attack to start the game, getting early opportunities by Dominic Oduro that were turned away. Then in the 12th minute Seattle got their first big chance when Freddie Ljungberg swung a corner kick into the box. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado headed it toward the farpost for Tyrone Marshall, but Marshall’s header went wide left and the score remained tied.
Oduro was a thorn in Seattle’s side for the first 80 minutes of the game, getting behind Seattle’s defense on several occasions and taking five shots before being subbed off for Luis Angel Landin. But the defense, anchored by Keller, was still able to keep him off the board.
But in the 36th minute it took a great save by Pat Onstad to keep Seattle from taking the lead. Fredy Montero dribbled up the left side, then passed to Steve Zakuani going toward the endline. Zakuani crossed to Nate Jaqua in the box, but Houston defender Geoff Cameron nearly knocked it into his own net. Onstad was able to get his foot on it though, and knocked it clear.
“It’s disappointing. We had a few good opportunities we weren’t able to stick in the back of the net, but it was a battle and there wasn’t a lot that opened up on either side,” Jaqua said.
Later in the 81st minute, second half sub Roger Levesque flipped the ball to Jaqua charging down the box, but he was defended by Cameron and his shot went wide of the net.
The game remained scoreless into the 90th minute and went to extra time. There Ching, who played for the Sounders in the A-League in 2001 and 2002, was the difference-maker.
Houston defender Mike Chabala took the ball up the left side and crossed it into the box for Brian Mullan at the far post. Roger Levesque was there to defend him, but Mullan was able to deflect the ball to Ching for a right-footed, sidewinding volley into the net for a 1-0 lead in the 96th minute.
“They put a good ball into the box. We don’t quite clear it well and the ball bounces tremendous for Brian, but that’s an unbelievable finish for Brian Ching. He won’t score a better goal at a better time,” Keller said. “We battled away, but unfortunately just couldn’t get the goals that we needed.”
That score held up and the Sounders frustrations mounted in the 120th minute when James Riley was ejected from the game for a hard tackle in the midfield.
Not long after the foul and ensuing melee, the final whistle was blown on the Sounders season.
“We couldn’t find a way to win today and that’s the disappointing part,” Jaqua said. “But that’s the way it is. You’re not going to win every game and you’re not going to make it through every time.”
All told, it was a successful opening campaign for the expansion Sounders FC.
“To have won the Open Cup and have a winning record in the season and come two points away from winning the Supporters Shield and to have lost to a team that has been a dominant team in the playoffs is a pretty proud moment for a young expansion team,” head coach Sigi Schmid said. “But we don’t want to accept mediocrity. Our goal is always to win a championship and maybe the sting of today will help us to move forward into next year.”