After Leg 1 of the Western Conference Championship, the Seattle Sounders are in the driver’s seat.
Gustav Svensson opened the scoring in the 11th minute, Will Bruin added another in the 42nd and the Sounders managed a 2-0 triumph over the Houston Dynamo on Tuesday – their first-ever victory in their MLS history when traveling to Houston.
The victory puts the Sounders in prime position to advance to their second-straight MLS Cup final, a ticket they’ll have a chance to punch in Leg 2 of the series at CenturyLink Field on Thursday, Nov. 30.
Svensson set the Sounders off to a dream start in the 11th minute with a thundering header off a perfectly placed corner kick from Nicolás Lodeiro, giving the Sounders an early 1-0 lead and a crucial away goal in one fell swoop. Seattle were afforded a golden opportunity to double that lead just minutes later, when Dynamo defender and former Sounder Jalil Anibaba brought down Joevin Jones in his own box, drawing a penalty kick whistle from referee Chris Penso. Anibaba was also shown a red card for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity, giving Seattle a one-man advantage for the rest of the match and Lodeiro an opportunity to double the lead from the penalty spot. But Lodeiro would have his attempt stuffed by Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis, keeping the score 1-0.
Seattle would find their second in the 42nd minute, though, after Bruin cashed home a header off another pinpoint feed from Jones, giving Seattle another road goal and a 2-0 lead as the contest hit halftime. Neither team would net in the second half, giving the Sounders a two-goal cushion heading into the second leg.
MILLER STEPS UP
The Sounders were without starting goalkeeper Stefan Frei for the match after he picked up a right hamstring strain in training over the weekend, thrusting reserve Tyler Miller into the spotlight. The second-year man didn’t need to make any spectacular saves, but he held down the fort admirably in Frei’s absence. Frei’s status is unclear for the second leg but should his injury linger, Miller should have some confidence under his belt after manning the clean sheet in Leg 1.
CENTER BACK STALWARTS
If you want to hear a remarkable stat, consider the following: When Seattle’s center back pairing of Chad Marshall and Román Torres start together over their last 18 matches, the Sounders are 12-0-6 with a +27 goal differential. For all the headlines the Sounders’ star-studded attacking corps rightfully receives, that’s the type of defensive dominance that can fuel a championship run.
ROAD GOALS IN THE BAG
Scoring goals on the road is pivotal if you want to advance in the MLS Cup Playoffs, as they represent the first tie-breaker should the series end in an aggregate tie. Svensson and Bruin gave the Sounders just that with their massive tallies on Tuesday night, meaning Houston will now have to win 2-0 on the road at CenturyLink in Leg 2 just to force extra time. It’s not an impossible task, but given the fortress the Sounders have turned CenturyLink Field into over the years, it’s also far from an easy one.