Nelson Valdez’s dramatic late header settled a heated affair at CenturyLink Field on Thursday night, sending the Seattle Sounders through from the final Western Conference Knockout Round game with a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City.
Sporting had the better of the opening minutes in what would prove to be a high-intensity 90 minutes, with tempers flaring on both sides on multiple occasions throughout the contest. Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei was called into action twice within the first 10 minutes and continued to be vital for the Sounders throughout the game, making seven saves as the visiting team continued to create the better chances.
Frei's opposite number, Tim Melia, experienced a quiet evening, as the Sounders failed to register a shot on target until Valdez's winning goal. That decisive moment came about as the ball came out wide to Joevin Jones on the left and the Trinidadian international whipped in a cross to the near post, finding a streaking Valdez for his first goal of the year. It was a controversial strike as Sporting Kansas City would argue after the match that Valdez was offside on the goal.
Seattle, the No. 4 seed in the West, will now turn their attention to a Western Conference Semifinal series with No. 1-seeded FC Dallas, a re-match of their series last year that was settled by a penalty kick shootout.
- FOR ALL THE MARBLES: The big story of this game outside of Valdez’s late winner will be the intensity displayed by both teams, which more than once boiled over into heated confrontations. The first such incident came after a dust-up between Osvaldo Alonso and Roger Espinoza after the former committed a yellow-card foul in the first half. The intensity level really ratcheted up, though, when Alonso dispossessed Feilhaber with a lunging tackle in the second half that had the Sporting contingent screaming for a second yellow card to be shown to the hard-nosed midfielder. Much to the consternation of the visiting team, referee Ismail Elfath ruled the challenge to be a fair one, setting up a high-intensity finale that saw Sporting tempers once again boil over at the final whistle.
- A TALE OF TWO BENNYS: It proved to be quite the eventful evening for Sporting playmaker Benny Feilhaber, who was arguably the best player on the field and created chances at will for Sporting. He provided this moment of magic that was a Frei kick save away from going down as one of the great playoff goals of all time:
What a run by Benny! Frei once again comes up with the stop. pic.twitter.com/ZJ4Aag9zj2— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 28, 2016
- FREI THE HERO: Sounders ‘keeper Stefan Frei saved one of his best showings of the year for when it mattered most. His seven saves on the night matched a personal season high, and each one of them proved crucial to Seattle’s victory. Sporting, meanwhile, will be left scratching their heads as to how they were unable to get one in the back of the net, dooming them to a third consecutive Knockout Round elimination after they won MLS Cup in 2013.