SEATTLE – It was never an easy task, but Sounders FC survived a late scare on Wednesday night to oust the Colorado Rapids, 2-0, in the Knockout Round of the MLS Cup Playoffs, setting up a rivalry bout with the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Semifinals, beginning Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle got a first-half goal from Brad Evans and clung to the lead, even when playing down a man for the final 10 minutes of play when goalkeeper Michael Gspurning was sent off for handling the ball outside the box.
“It says a lot of the team and its character and knowing we’ve got to get through this—we’ve got to battle, we’ve got to win,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “There wasn’t a guy on the field that I didn’t think battled and did what they needed to do to help us win this game.”
Gspurning had played well through 85 minutes, making saves on both Colorado shots on goal, but a high arching ball from the midfield pulled him off his line and he fielded the bouncing ball just outside the box, drawing the red card.
Gspurning explained after the match that he came off with the intention of heading the ball clear, but when it bounced higher than he anticipated, he attempted to get back into the box, only to come up just short.
“You have to make decisions in a split-second,” Gspurning said. “It bounced a little higher than expected. I thought I wasn’t too far from the box and could take a few steps back and catch it, but I missed one step back.”
Marcus Hahnemann subbed into the match and was forced into immediate action on the ensuing free kick, but held the Rapids off the board and Eddie Johnson added a stoppage-time goal to put the Sounders through to the next round against the Timbers.
“We came out hot tonight. It kind of propelled us to this victory tonight,” Evans said. “We have been in the 1-0 situation before and we have conceded and or lost those games so we were trying to be a little but smarter tonight. We were really trying to get one at the end to seal it and we were able to.”
Sounders FC was the early aggressor. In the third minute Adam Moffat ripped a shot off a pass from Johnson, but Clint Irwin made the stop and cleared the loose ball before Clint Dempsey could get to the rebound.
The pressure continued and Johnson missed just wide on a header off a cross from DeAndre Yedlin in the 18th minute.
The pressure finally paid off in the 28th minute as Evans gave Seattle the 1-0 lead.
Johnson rolled the ball to the left corner for Leo Gonzalez, who sent a cross into the box. It skimmed over the heads of two Colorado defenders to Evans at the far side of the box. He chested the ball down and blistered a shot inside the far post for the goal.
"It was actually something I thought about a little today. I thought that I was going to score on a volley and I was just hoping it was going to come true,” Evans said. “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.”
Seattle outshot Colorado 8-2 in the first half and the second shot came as a laser off the boot of Martin Rivero in first-half stoppage time, but went straight into the awaiting arms of Gspurning right in the middle of the frame.
The barrage continued in the second half and Marc Burch, who subbed on for Yedlin at halftime after the right back suffered an ankle injury late in the first half, crushed a free kick into the crossbar from 19 yards out on the right corner of the box.
Deshorn Brown was virtually shut out of the match by the Seattle defense, but in the 57th minute managed a dangerous cross that drifted toward the far corner of the net before it was met by Gspurning for the save.
In the 85th minute, Gspurning’s misplay put Seattle down a man, as Hahnemann replaced Lamar Neagle.
Seattle held possession, though, and eventually Johnson broke through, racing past Mera on the right side of the box and slotting his shot past Irwin for the 2-0 lead.
“All through the season we have worked through adversity, and with Gspurning going out we knew we would only get one chance, but Dempsey, Neagle and myself are always confident that we can put one away,” Johnson said. “It was just a great way to seal the game.”
Seattle will face the Timbers in the two-leg, aggregate-goal series starting Saturday at CenturyLink Field and concluding at JELD-WEN Field on Thursday, October 7.
Playoff tickets for Saturday’s match are on sale now at the CenturyLink Field Box Office, via www.SoundersFC.com or by calling 800-745-3000.
Sounders FC – Brad Evans 28; Eddie Johnson (Clint Dempsey) 93+.
Rapids – None.
Sounders FC – Lamar Neagle (caution) 78; Michael Gspurning (ejection) 85; Eddie Johnson (caution) 89.
Rapids – Hendry Thomas (caution) 23; Atiba Harris (caution) 46+; Clint Irwin (caution) 53; German Mera (caution) 79.
Sounders FC – Michael Gspurning, DeAndre Yedlin (Marc Burch 46), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Djimi Traore, Leo Gonzalez, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Adam Moffat (Zach Scott 90), Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Lamar Neagle (Marcus Hahnemann 87).
Rapids – Clint Irwin, Shane O’Neill, Drew Moor, German Mera, Chris Klute, Hendry Thomas, Nathan Sturgis (Marvell Wynne 84), Martin Rivero (Vicente Sanchez 61), Gabriel Torres, Deshorn Brown (Edson Buddle 73), Atiba Harris.