With about 15 minutes left in Wednesday’s match, Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid glanced up at the scoreboard. Somehow, it was still 1-0 Olimpia. Seattle’s positioning in its Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League group could hinge on this result - securing points in home matches is vital - and Olimpia was holding out against all odds.
As Schmid looked up at the time, a singular thought scrolled through his mind.
“We do not deserve to lose this game,” Schmid thought. “We’ve been the better team. Hopefully something will change.”
Boy did it.
In one of the wildest finishes in Sounders FC history, Seattle bagged an equalizer on an Erik Friberg header in the 90th minute, and Brad Evans coolly slotted home a penalty in the 97th to give Sounders FC a crowd-pleasing 2-1 victory at CenturyLink Field. The win pushed Seattle to four points from its first two Group Stage matches in advance of the return trip to face Olimpia in Honduras next week. Both Friberg and Evans came on as subs.
For so long it looked as though it might not be Seattle’s night. Aaron Kovar drilled the post twice, once off a cross from Lamar Neagle in the first half and again in the second frame off a picture perfect free kick that just missed. He also forced keeper Noel Vallardes, who was excellent all night, to make a sprawling save in the first half to kill off a sure goal. And that’s not to mention a handful of other near-miss opportunities from other players.
In the end, Sounders FC owned more than 70 percent of the possession, out-shot Olimpia 16-6 and was rarely challenged defensively after Alberth Elis scored the opener in the fifth minute. But for 89 minutes, the goal wouldn’t fall.
The turning point embodied the kind of match it was, and precisely how crazy CONCACAF matches - whether for club or country - can be.
Olimpia played a hard, physical match in which its players spent a fair amount of time on the ground. So when striker Rommel Quioto fell to his back around midfield in the 89th minute, few were surprised as the boos rained down from the stands. Quioto was eventually stretchered the 30 yards off the field and quickly returned to his feet, which was greeted with a shower of more boos. As Quioto pejoratively applauded the crowd, as if to acknowledge that both parties knew exactly what had just happened, Friberg scored the equalizer on a header. While Quioto was in mid-mock applause.
“I love it,” said keeper Troy Perkins, who got the starting nod on Wednesday. “The guy is faking an injury to get off the field, he’s clapping to our fans, and three seconds later we score a goal. So a little bit of justice done there.”
Schmid rolled out a vastly changed lineup from the team’s rousing 4-0 win over Orlando City here on Sunday. Neagle was the only holdover, with fresh partnerships all over the field. Striker Darwin Jones made his first start as a Sounders FC First Team player, Micheal Azira was deployed at rightback for the first time in a long time, Pineda and Roldan played next to one another in the middle while Jimmy Ockford and veteran Zach Scott linked up in central defense.
There were some growing pains in the first half as the team found some semblance of stability in its new skin, but after halftime Sounders FC emerged a considerably more dangerous team. But even as the chances rained down, the goals did not.
Mercifully, that changed during a rowdy final 10 minutes that gave the crowd in attendance a rare show. After Friberg’s header, the game got even chippier as Olimpia sought to slow down the wave after wave of Seattle attacks rolling forward across their bow. It seemed like the Honduran side might escape Seattle with a point before leftback Dylan Remick took a hit on the edge of the box in the 95th minute. The referee blew the whistle for a penalty and the stadium seemed to heave with noise.
That touched off a wild final few minutes. Olimpia violently protested the call, both to beset upon referee Kimball Ward and to Seattle’s players, before Evans finally got a chance to spin the ball to the turf and line up his kick in the 97th minute. The interminable anticipation building, Evans smashed home the penalty low and to his right to beat Vallardes, and Ward blew the final whistle just moments later. CenturyLink Field was in rare voice.
The scintillating finish only built on an enormous momentum-turning win in MLS just days earlier. With the final nine matches of the MLS regular season looming, in addition to more Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League matches, the engine finally seems to be picking up a head of steam at just the right time.
“It says a lot about the group of guys. They fought,” Evans said. “For some guys, it was a second chance. And I thought that everybody played extremely well. We made a couple key subs, and those paid dividends tonight. I think we can all go home happy tonight.”