MLS Cup Playoffs

Seattle Sounders get the job done in opening leg of Western Conference Championship

SEATTLE — All things considered, the Seattle Sounders did what they needed to do on Tuesday night.

Facing the Colorado Rapids in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship, the Sounders turned in a 2-1 come-from-behind win to stake an early lead in the aggregate series. Seattle will head to Commerce City, Colo., for the return leg on Sunday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (1 p.m. PT; ESPN, 770 KTTH, El Rey 1360AM).

The first leg in Seattle came following a16-day hiatus following the end of the Western Conference Semifinals. There was a built-in FIFA international break, which pushed back the start of the conference finals.

The extra time off certainly had its advantages for the Sounders, most notably in the return of forward Jordan Morris, who entered questionable with a hamstring strain. But the Sounders were firing on all cylinders heading into the bye week. The added time made them a little sluggish to start the match and they paid for it with a 13th-minute strike from Kevin Doyle that had them behind early.

“I think we came out and were a little rusty,” said Morris. “I think after 20 minutes or so, I thought we took control of the game and played pretty well against a very good team.

“We’ll have things to work on in training and things we can do better, but it’s just about recovering for the next game because it’s going to come quickly.”

The second leg in Colorado may be Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer’s toughest obstacle since taking over in late July. Seattle is tasked with going into high altitude to play a team that hasn’t lost at home all season with a trip to the MLS Cup Final at stake. And since the Sounders allowed a goal at CenturyLink Field, even a 1-0 victory for the Rapids on Sunday would be enough to advance because of the away goals tiebreaker.

But Schmetzer did not seem too rattled with what his team is up against.

“Since we’ve taken over, there’s only one game we haven’t scored a goal,” Schmetzer said. “We all expect to win every game we step on the field. That hasn’t changed one iota. The games were must-win way back when, and they’re must-win now as well. If we win in Denver, we go through.”

Schmetzer plans on playing the same way the Sounders have played so far under his direction. He wants to play the brand of soccer that has gotten them to this point, to the brink of their first-ever MLS Cup Final appearance. He’s made that message abundantly clear to his players already.

“We have to score a goal down there and it’s not just sitting back and protecting this 2-1 lead for 90 minutes,” said Morris. “We have to push and go at them. When the game gets tough, we have to continue to try and keep the ball and do the stuff that we’re good at.”

An away goal for the Sounders in Colorado would amplify the pressure on the Rapids, a team that was tied for 18th in the regular season in goals scored. And the scenarios are largely in the Sounders’ favor.

“I’m happy with the performance and it’s given us a result that hopefully will give us a fighting chance,” said goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “I believe in our squad that we can go down there and play a good game and get an away goal and move on.”



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