KANSAS CITY - For the second straight season, the Sounders FC has clinched a playoff berth on the home ground of the Kansas City Wizards.
Seattle got goals from Sanna Nyassi and Alvaro Fernandez and Kasey Keller had two first-half saves while James Riley had a touch of a ball to keep the Wizards from equalizing in stoppage time and the Sounders finished off a 2-1 victory for their fourth straight win in MLS play.
“It’s certainly a tremendous accomplishment for our club in our first two years to qualify both years for the playoffs, to win two Open Cups so far, we have more wins than we did last year, we’ve won four in a row on the road now,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said.
The Sounders withstood heavy pressure from Kansas City in the first half and held them off to keep the score even at 0-0. Matt Besler had two headers from close range in the first half, but Keller put an end to those opportunities with his only saves of the night, keeping Seattle within striking distance.
“I wasn’t that busy, it was strange,” Keller said. “But on this field, that’s the way they play and they did it very well. They had some opportunities to scores and didn’t take them.”
In the second half, it was more of the same until Schmid substituted Nate Jaqua into the game in the 65th minute.
He made an instant impact, playing a 1-2 with Nyassi that put the red-hot midfielder into the box. Jimmy Nielsen stopped his initial left-footed effort, but Nyassi stayed on the ball and knocked it in for his second goal in as many games in MLS play.
“I think Sanna’s just on fire now. It took him forever to score one and now he can’t stop scoring,” Schmid said. “It was a great combination with Nate Jaqua.”
Add in a brace against the Columbus Crew in the US Open Cup final and Nyassi has four goals in his last three matches.
“I just want to keep it going. I’m on fire right now scoring four goals in three games and it gives me more confidence,” Nyassi said.
Jaqua set up Seattle’s second goal as well, finding Fernandez - who only subbed on three minutes earlier - behind the Wizards defense. Fernandez then slyly slipped the ball past Nielsen for his second goal of the season, giving Seattle the 2-0 lead in the 78th minute.
“Once he got into the box, he made a great move to open himself up for the left-footed shot,” Schmid said. “Individual players turned the game. Jaqua coming off the bench really helped us. It was one of those games where you needed fresh legs and they both provided what they could.”
Kansas City would not go down easy though.
Teal Bunbury worked his way into the box and then got a generous call from the referee to earn a penalty kick as he took on Jeff Parke in the box. Davy Arnaud put away the PK in the 84th minute for his fifth goal of the season, drawing the Wizards within a goal at 2-1.
Seattle, with the help of Riley, dodged a bullet in stoppage time, as Kei Kamara got a sliding shot away from within eight yards, but Riley got a touch on it and it found the post and spilled away to keep the Sounders in the lead.
They held on in the final minutes and clinched their second straight playoff berth.
“We will enjoy this part of the accomplishment, but it’s just the start,” owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “Hopefully we do more damage than we did in the playoffs last year.”
Seattle has two more matches in league play, beginning with a home tilt with Chivas USA on Friday before the season finale on the road with the Houston Dynamo on October 23. The postseason will start for the Sounders between October 28-31 with the second leg coming the following week. Playoff tickets will be available to the public October 21 at 10 am Pacific Time at www.soundersfc.com/playoffs.
Sounders FC - Sanna Nyassi 66; Alvaro Fernandez 78.
Wizards - Davy Arnaud (PK) 84.
Sounders FC - Kasey Keller, James Riley, Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni, Leo Gonzalez, Sanna Nyassi (Tyrone Marshall 89), Osvaldo Alonso, Nathan Sturgis, Steve Zakuani (Alvaro Fernandez 74), Fredy Montero (Nate Jaqua 65), Blaise Nkufo.
Wizards - Jimmy Nielsen, Michael Harrington, Jimmy Conrad, Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Davy Arnaud, Craig Rocastle (Birahim Diop 85), Jack Jewsbury (Graham Zusi 73), Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, Ryan Smith (Josh Wolff 68).