SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders are headed for a mouthwatering rivalry showdown after booking a 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids in the Western Conference Knockout Round on Wednesday night at CenturyLink Field, thanks to strikes on either side of halftime from Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson.
Evans laced home a half-volley in the first half for his first postseason goal since 2008 and Johnson iced the game in second-half stoppage time, but only after a nervy second frame that saw the Sounders go down to 10 men after goalkeeper Michael Gspurning's 85th-minute red card.
The result sends Seattle, the fourth seed in the Western Conference, through to the Conference Semifinals, where they will play a home-and-home series with their archrivals, the Portland Timbers. The Sounders will host the first leg at CenturyLink Field on Saturday before the series heads to Portland on Nov. 7.
The home side enjoyed the better of the play in the first half and were able to test Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin twice early on, first when Adam Moffat's low drive from the left side forced a one-handed save in the third minute and then when Lamar Neagle nearly caught Irwin off his line in the 12th minute with a looping header that the 'keeper was barely able to tip wide.
An even better Sounders chance came along just a minute later. Moffat again found himself with the ball inside the penalty area, this time on the right. His shot from about eight yards out beat Irwin, but Nathan Sturgis was able to clear it off the line. The rebound fell to Neagle about six yards out, but the forward was unable to control the bouncing ball.
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The Sounders' goal finally came when Johnson found Leo Gonzalez on an overlapping run down the left flank. The Costa Rican whipped in a cross that struck the head of a Rapids defender but went right to Evans, who chested it down, lined up his shot and buried it inside the far post.
Colorado weren’t able to get a much possession inside the Sounders attacking third, especially missing the presence of Dillon Powers (concussion) in the middle. Their only real chance in the first half came in stoppage time when Martin Rivero ran onto a loose ball at the top of the penalty area, only to see his stinging shot go right into Gspurning's chest.
However, the visitors picked things up in the second half, attempting to capitalize on a series of fumbles from the slippery-handed Gspurning, but creating very little in the way of big chances.
Gspurning's night went from bad to worse in the 85th minute when he inexplicably came outside of his area to deal with a long clearance and handled it, resulting in a straight red card from referee Silviu Petrescu. The Rapids had their best chance of the night off a corner shortly after, but Hendry Thomas' glancing header went high.
That set up a tense finish in front of the packed house at CenturyLink, but Johnson eased the fans' fears when he took a pass from Clint Dempsey inside the penalty area, beat a defender and then fired a left-footed shot inside the near post. It was the first time the Sounders had won or scored multiple goals since Sept. 13 and it was Dempsey's first assist in a Sounders uniform.
The goal ensured a dream matchup with the Timbers, but Seattle will certainly have to face their Cascadia neighbors without Gspurning in the first leg, and possibly DeAndre Yedlin, who left the game at halftime after picking up a right ankle sprain late in the first half.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Osvaldo Alonso||At his best when he makes life a living nightmare for opposing midfielders, which is exactly what he did tonight. Cleaned up messes all over the place and distributed well.|
|2||Clint Dempsey||Starting to thrive in that No. 10 spot, even if he isn't the traditional type of player for that role. Made plenty of things happen in the Seattle attack and picked up his first assist in rave green|
|3||Brad Evans||A strong outing both on the right side of Seattle's diamond, then at right back. Scored the decisive goal with a quality finish and did his part in attack|