SEATTLE – As recently as a few weeks ago, the Seattle Sounders would have been happy just to make the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Now, they’re heading to the Western Conference semifinals on the strength of a dramatic game-winner from substitute Nelson Valdez that gave them a 1-0 Knockout Round victory over Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field. It was by no means smooth sailing, but a result that rookie forward Jordan Morris said is indicative of the type of resilience his team has showcased throughout the second half of their season.
“It’s been a super up-and-down [year],” Morris said after the game. “I think it shows the resiliency of the team and how hard we fight. We believed the whole season that we would make the playoffs. Now that we’re here, we want to win the whole thing.
“This was a good first step but that’s just kind of the belief of the team. All season we’ve had it, now we’ve just got to keep it going.”
Thursday’s match was a physical affair from the get-go and saw the teams combine for 30 fouls. Seattle also dodged multiple bullets, including a 53rd-minute would-be goal from SKC’s Matt Besler that was waved off by the assistant referee for offside, before Valdez's goal was allowed to stand despite similar questions of offside.
“You take that into account for sure but at the end of the day it’s a playoff game,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “There were so many fouls, it was very hard to get a rhythm for either team.
“They fouled a ton and we did too. At the end of the day it’s that one chance that we got. Nelson took care of it and you know big guys step up in big moments and he’s definitely that guy for us.”
The Sounders now have a Western Conference semifinal match-up with FC Dallas next on the docket, an opponent that happens to pit them against this year’s Supporters’ Shield champions, with the first leg of that series coming on Sunday at CenturyLink Field (9:30 pm ET; FS1, TSN2).
““We have to make sure we get a good result at home in the first game,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “A good clean sheet would be nice and obviously a couple of goals, but that would set us up nicely for the second game. Right now we have to take care of some bumps and bruises because that makes games difficult very, very quickly.”