SEATTLE – The way things have been going lately, there was plenty of reason to expect the Seattle Sounders to fall apart again.
Nursing a 1-0 lead in the 85th minute, goalkeeper Michael Gspurning picked up a red card after inexplicably handling the ball outside the penalty area. Not only were the Sounders reduced to 10 men and forced to bring Marcus Hahnemann off the bench with virtually no warm-up, but the Colorado Rapids had a dangerous free kick just outside the area.
Seattle, who hadn't won a game since Sept. 13, faced the very real possibility of that ignominious streak lasting throughout the postseason.
Instead, the wall blocked the free kick and danger was cleared. A few minutes later, Eddie Johnson scored an insurance goal to send the Sounders to a 2-0 victory over the Rapids in the Western Conference Knockout Round on Wednesday, a happy turnaround for a team that desperately needed it.
“It’s been a long time since we won a game,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid told reporters after the game. “We get reminded of that all the time. For us to win a game is just a good feeling. It’s always been our belief that when we get our people on the field, we are a team that can win games. For us it’s a win over a team that embarrassed us the last time. It’s not just a win; it’s the way we played as well.”
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It was also the way the Sounders dealt with adversity. Ever since surrendering a late goal to the New York Red Bulls back on Sept. 29, everything that could go wrong for the Sounders seemingly did. Hit crossbars, poor bounces, and untimely injuries – they all seemed to favor the opponents.
And when Silviu Petrescu reached into his back pocket to send off Gspurning, it all seemed to be following a similar script.
“It was one of those things, where I felt like ‘oh no this can’t happen again,’” said Johnson, who picked up his own yellow card in the aftermath of Gspurning’s red. “It felt like last year it was the same situation. The whole world was against us. it was one of those moments where I lost my head for a little bit. But I’m over it.”
Johnson said teammate Leo Gonzalez helped calm him down after the yellow. The Sounders seemed to collect themselves, as well.
“I thought we put a lot of effort into tonight to make sure we came out of it with a victory,” said Sounders midfielder Brad Evans, who scored a goal and then shifted back to replace injured right back DeAndre Yedlin in the second half. “All the doom-and-gloom talk, it was important for this locker room to stay together and not focus on the outside distractions: what you read, what you hear, what you see on the internet and just focus on what we can do as a team and we can right the ship together.”
The Sounders’ prize is a much-anticipated playoff showdown with the Portland Timbers and Johnson, who missed the last meeting between the Cascadia rivals, was especially excited.
“I think the lord answered my prayers,” he said.