Four months ago, the Seattle Sounders sat at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, looking like they were almost certain to miss the playoffs for the first time in their eight-year history.
Instead, the Sounders picked themselves up off the canvas under then-interim coach Brian Schmetzer — and now they’ve made history of a different kind.
Jordan Morris provided the only goal of the match in the 56th minute and the Sounders’ defense held firm for 90 minutes, allowing Seattle to win the Western Conference for the first time ever, defeating the Colorado Rapids 1-0 on Sunday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. and winning the Western Conference final by a 3-1 aggregate score.
“They never quit,” Schmetzer told ESPN after the match. “Jordy [Morris] was beat up, tired. Nelson Valdez, the guys at the back, the whole team just kind of figures out ways how to win games. That’s their biggest strength.”
The Seattle Sounders flipped the script that the Rapids had used all year-long to post a 12-0-6 mark at their home stadium by refusing to allow Colorado to gain an early advantage. Unlike the first leg of the series, which saw the Sounders concede a goal in the first 11 minutes, Seattle kept Colorado on the outskirts for the entire contest on Sunday night.
The Rapids never broke through against the Seattle Sounders’ back line, firing 16 shots at the net but failing to put a single one on frame, the highest number of shots without getting one on the goal in MLS history. Conversely, the Sounders weathered the storm as few other teams had done, frustrating the Rapids until their chance came.
That moment proved to be in the 56th minute, when a failed clearance from Colorado’s Jared Watts fell to the feet of Nelson Valdez, who quickly found Morris with space in the penalty area. The rookie lofted the ball over Colorado keeper Zac MacMath for the critical marker, forcing the Rapids to get two goals just to tie the Seattle Sounders. Colorado never broke through, and the final result was the ninth match of the year at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to end with a final score of 1-0, but the first in which the Rapids were on the wrong end of the scoreline.
With the win, the Sounders now prepare to face the winner of the Eastern Conference final between Montreal Impact and Toronto FC. That match will take place on Wednesday, with the Impact currently holding a 3-2 lead on aggregate. A win or a draw for Impact will see them through, while TFC advances with a win of at least two goals. If Toronto wins by one, the away goals tiebreaker will come into play. In that case, Toronto would advance if it holds Montreal to one goal or fewer, while Montreal would advance if it scores at least three. If the match finishes 3-2 to Toronto, the teams would play extra time before using a shootout to decide the winner.
In either case, the Seattle Sounders will meet the winner on Dec. 10 for the MLS Cup. If Toronto wins, the Sounders will travel to Toronto, where they forged a 1-1 draw on July 2. A Montreal win would see the Sounders host the Impact for the second time this year, with the first meeting resulting in a 1-0 Seattle win on April 2.
Readers, are you surprised that Seattle is the Western Conference champion? Who do you expect them to face in the final? Who do you expect to be the 2016 MLS champion? Sound off in the comments below and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
Commentary by Dan Angell