Seattle Sounders FC took a seven-game winless streak into a must-win game Wednesday, and won.
The Sounders’ 2-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids at CenturyLink Field was their first since mid-September. The Sounders took the lead in the 28th minute, on a two-touch shot from Brad Evans from just inside a top corner of the penalty area. Eddie Johnson added the insurance goal in stoppage time.
The Sounders will advance to the Western Conference semifinals against the top-seeded Portland Timbers. The two-game, aggregate-score series begins at 7 p.m. Saturday in Seattle. That series will resolve Nov. 7 at Portland.
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Seattle dominated the first half, starting with Adam Moffat putting a shot on goal in the third minute. Lamar Neagle, Johnson and Clint Dempsey all followed with missed chances.The Sounders finally capitalized in the 28th minute when a rebounded ball went to Evans, who chested down to his right foot and whacked it past Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin.
However, the Sounders knew they still had work to do. Three times during their winless steak, they had scored first only to allow a tying goal.
This time they were able to do it, despite a couple of major challenges.Starting right back DeAndre Yedlin did not return for the second half with a sprained right ankle.
Then, in the 85th minute, Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning came out for a ball and handled it just outside the penalty box. He was given a red card, and the Sounders played through to the final whistle while a man down and with reserve Marcus Hahnemann rushed into action.
Seattle finally got breathing room in stoppage time, when Johnson took a pass from Dempsey, cut inside and beat Irwin.
The result ends the season for the fifth-seeded Rapids.
The winner of the Seattle-Portland series advances to the Western Conference final against the winner of the Salt Lake-Los Angeles semifinal series.
Gspurning will be ineligible Saturday due to his red card.
It goes final: Sounders 2, Rapids 0. Seattle advances to Western two-game aggregate-score semifinal vs. Timbers, starting here Saturday.
Stoppage time: GOAL Seattle. Eddie Johnson buys space with sweet inside move and finishes. Sounders 2-0. Assist to Dempsey.
86' Red card to Gspuring who went out and handled ball just outside the penalty area. Hahnemann in, and Sounders a man down.
Gspurning also out Saturday vs. Portland.
Through 60: Colorado evening things some. Still better chances to Sounders, but possession switching as Rapids begin pushing forward.
Second half: ... has begun. Burch on for Yedlin, who was hurt in collision with Brown. Evans apparently moves to right back -- his position with the U.S. national team -- and Burch to midfield.
Rain coming down again.
Halftime: Sounders 1-0. Seattle must be happy with lead, Rapids must be happy it isn't worse.
Shots, 8-2 SEA, on target 3-1 SEA; corners 2-0 SEA; duels won 57.1% COL; possession 52% SEA.
28' GOAL Seattle. After many Sounders chances, Brad Evans nails one from the top corner of the penalty area. Sounders, 1-0.
First 10 minutes: Scoreless. But Sounders have had most of the possession, and the one shot on goal, Adam Moffat in the box, saved by Irwin.
First kick: ... has been struck. We're under way. Sounders in rave/blue. Rapids in their Colorad-flag blue/blue.
Relatively small crowd ... mid-30s, I'm guessing. Rain seems to have stopped.
Lineups: For the Sounders: Gspurning; Yedlin, Hurtado, Traore, Gonzalez; Moffat, Evans, Alonso, Neagle, Dempsey; Johnson. Reserves: Hahnemann, Scott, Burch, Rosales, Rose, Joseph, Estrada.
Gonzalez for Burch is only change from the starting lineup vs. LA on Sunday. Oba Martins missing from the 18, as expected. But Shalrie Joseph's appearance is a surprise.
For the Rapids: Irwin; O'Neill, Moor, Mera, Klute; Thomas, Sturgis; Harris, Rivero, Brown; Torres. Reserves: Pickens, Wynne, Wallace, LaBrocca, Serna, Sanchez, Buddle.
Pregame: It's cloudy and cool about two hours before the first kick of tonight's knockout match between the Sounders and the Colorado Rapids.
First kick is expected around 7:35. The game will be seen locally on KONG, regionally on Root and nationally on NBCSN. It can be heard on the usual radio outlets. I'll blog it here. And I'll have more updates on Twitter @donruiztnt.
CenturyLink Field is in its regular-season seating configuration, with tarp oover most of the upper decks, but not over the Hawks Nest or south end zone, as is sometimes done for CONCACAF matches here.I'll be back with news as it breaks, and lineups probably about 45 minutes before first kick.
Meanwhile, three keys to the game:
1.) NO EARLY DEFECIT: The last time the clubs met, the Sounders trailed 1-0 after 15 seconds and 2-0 after 10 minutes. They remember, and don’t want a repeat.
2.) DEMPSEY FACTOR: Before Clint Dempsey recorded his first goal as a Sounder last weekend, coach Sigi Schmid had said he’d be happy if the national team captain was holding them for the playoffs. It’s time for the league’s highest-paid player to break out.
3.) MANAGE THE GAME: The Sounders’ ongoing seven-game winless streak includes three games in which they scored first but ended up settling for a draw. This knockout match demands a winner, and the home side doesn’t want to see its season decided on penalty kicks.