Best for last? Valdez clutch again as Sounders cap exhausting week in style

SEATTLE – Just three days after squeaking out a 1-0 Knockout Round victory over Sporting Kansas City marked by a handful of hotly contested calls, the Seattle Sounders left nothing ambiguous about the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal matchup with FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. 

The Sounders erupted for three goals in an eight-minute span at the start of the second half, blasting the Supporters’ Shield winners 3-0, and will now take a commanding cushion into the second leg of the series next Sunday at Toyota Stadium (Sunday, 9 pm ET; FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN).

Given the start at forward after scoring the game-winning tally on Thursday, it was Nelson Valdez who played the hero role again for the Sounders on Sunday, opening the floodgates with a headed finish of a Joevin Jones cross for a second consecutive match.

“Nelson deserved [to start] because his work throughout the season,” Sounders interim head coach Brian Schmetzer said after the game. “I felt that he was on a high after he scored the winning goal against Kansas City.

“It was a thought process the staff had about how we set up the team. We wanted to put Nelson in his natural position.”

Much-maligned throughout a regular season that saw him go scoreless over the course of 900 minutes, Valdez is quickly establishing himself as an invaluable postseason contributor for Seattle, and quieting his critics in the process. 

The 31-year-old Paraguayan also scored in the Sounders’ Knockout Round triumph over the LA Galaxy last season, and is now tied with Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson as the top playoff goalscorer in Sounders history.

“I’m just thankful to the team and to the coach for their trust in me,” Valdez said. “The only way I can answer that trust is to score more goals and continue to play the way that I played tonight.”

Valdez’s 50th-minute opener was followed up by two goals from midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who continued his torrid run of form since joining the Sounders as a Designated Player in July, capping off a marathon stretch in which Seattle baged three crucial victories in eight days.

“There are some pretty tired guys in [the locker room],” Schmetzer said. “That was three games in eight days, they’re pretty beat up and pretty tired. So we’ll watch film, get the trainers to get their jobs done, get the players healthy and we’ll come up with a plan for next Sunday.”