SEATTLE – The Seattle Sounders are going to the Western Conference Championship.
Clint Dempsey scored a dramatic go-ahead goal in the 56th minute and added the insurance tally in the 87th pacing Seattle to a 2-0 Western Conference semifinal victory over their Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps at CenturyLink Field on Thursday night. The victory gave the Sounders a two-goal aggregate victory following the scoreless first leg that will see them through to the next round of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.
The match was nervy after Dempsey’s opener, as an equalizer and 1-1 draw would have sent the Whitecaps through on the away goal tie-breaker. But Seattle’s star forward made sure that wasn’t an issue, cashing home the dagger just before second-half stoppage time to seal the result.
The Sounders had one decent chance in first-half stoppage time after midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro sent a cross in the direction of an on-rushing Dempsey, who stretched out to slot a volley attempt past Whitecaps goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic. But the shot would trickle just wide and the match stayed scoreless through the halftime break.
Dempsey finally found Seattle’s breakthrough in the 56th, though, after midfielder Cristian Roldan made a charging run into the box and left off a feed for Harry Shipp, who flicked on the feed to Dempsey. The 34-year-old US national team legend made no mistake, tucking a cheeky finish past Marinovic, giving the Sounders a crucial 1-0 lead and sending the CenturyLink Field crowd into bedlam in the process.
DEUCE COMES THROUGH
Dempsey has always loved scoring goals on big stages and he added another clutch goal to the list with Thursday night's tallies. If he can keep his hot hand going into the next round, it can only bode well for Seattle’s chances of keeping their playoff run right on rolling.
DEFENSE HOLDS FIRM
Dempsey will get the headlines and it’s not like the Whitecaps were pressing the attacking action throughout the series but the Sounders defense deserves its share of credit for holding up their end of the bargain. Center backs Chad Marshall and Román Torres managed to largely thwart Whitecaps forward and former Sounders legend Fredy Montero throughout the evening and Vancouver’s only substantive chance came on a second-half header from midfielder Christian Bolaños that was easily corralled by Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
The Sounders now get to relax following the tense semifinal series and await the winner of the West’s other matchup between the Portland Timbers and the Houston Dynamo, who play the second leg of their series on Sunday. Whoever they play will represent Seattle’s last hurdle if they want to book a trip a second-straight MLS Cup.