Seattle Sounders 1, Sporting Kansas City 0: Nelson Valdez saves the day in postseason classic

SEATTLE -- Substitute Nelson Valdez scored a dramatic, game-winning goal in the 88th minute, sending the Seattle Sounders to a heart-pounding 1-0 win in the Western Conference Knockout Round over Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on Saturday.

It was the first goal in MLS competition of 2016 for Valdez, following a back-and-forth affair that saw both sides tally chances but struggle to break through. With the victory, the Sounders advance to the Western Conference Semifinals, where they will meet Supporters’ Shield-winning FC Dallas on Oct. 30 in Seattle and Nov. 6 in Frisco, Texas.

The Sounders are now 3-0 all-time in Knockout Round games, with all three wins coming at CenturyLink Field. They’re also 7-3-3 all-time in the postseason on home turf, and are now unbeaten in their past nine home games overall (7-0-2).

Valdez’s game-winner came when he got his head to a cross from left back Joevin Jones, sending the crowd of 36,151 fans at CenturyLink into a frenzy before the final whistle.

SKC forced Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei into a handful of saves in the first half, the first coming in the 8th minute off a shot from midfielder Paulo Nagamura that forced Frei into a diving deflection.

Then, just two minutes later, Nagamura almost struck again, rocketing a shot that forced Frei into another reaction save. The ensuing deflection landed in front of SKC midfielder Graham Zusi, but his shot deflected off the post allowing the Sounders to narrowly avoid conceding the opening goal.

The Sounders settled down for the latter part of the second half and almost tallied the opener on the stroke of halftime, but center back Roman Torres’ header off a free kick from Nicolas Lodeiro sailed just over the SKC crossbar, keeping the match scoreless as it hit halftime.

Sporting very nearly got the opener in the 53rd minute after a Benny Feilhaber free kick found the head of defender Matt Besler, who headed the ball past Frei and into the net. But Besler was whistled offside by the assistant referee and the goal was negated.

The Sounders almost found their go-ahead goal in the 83rd minute, with Lodeiro very nearly finding Torres again at the far post off a free kick. But the Panamanian center back pushed his attempt just wide.

This will mark the third straight year the Sounders and FC Dallas will meet in the postseason, with the two teams splitting the results in 2014 and 2015. The Sounders topped FCD in two-game series two years ago before Dallas avenged that loss last year via a dramatic penalty kick shootout in Frisco.

FC Dallas won the season series between the two clubs in 2016 with two wins at home: 2-0 on May 14 and a come-from-behind 2-1 win on Oct. 16. The Sounders won the only meeting between the two teams in Seattle on July 13.

The Sounders lead the all-time regular-season series 10-5-5 and the teams have split the all-time postseason results, 1-1-2.