With the Sounders farther than ever from their long-sought first MLS Cup, it’s easy to forget just how close they were to last year’s Western Conference finals.
With the Sounders farther than ever from their long-sought first MLS Cup, in last place later in a season than they’ve been since joining the league in 2009, it’s easy to forget just how close they were to last year’s Western Conference finals.
FC Dallas visits CenturyLink Field on Wednesday night for a rare midweek game, and it brings with it blurred memories of a frantic finale, of a fateful, last-minute corner kick and then another.
Rewind to the 90th minute of the second leg of the 2015 Western Conference semifinals, and the Sounders are lining up the set piece. The series is tied at two on aggregate, but down 1-0 on the night, Seattle faces elimination on the away-goals rule.
Green shirts pace within the box as if on a caffeine high, twitching and darting. Marco Pappa lifts his right hand near the corner flag and strikes the ball with a powerful thud.
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To be frank, Dallas had dominated most of the series. In a moment, that wouldn’t matter.
“This may be the last, best chance for Seattle’s cope group from 2009 to win a title,” announcer Rob Stone says on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast, setting the stage. “Hooked in … Gonzalez lost it … CHAD MARSHALL.”
The veteran Sounders center back powered in a header at the back post. Andy Rose hugged him from behind, wrapped around broad shoulders. Seattle had the aggregate lead. For the next 45 seconds or so, at least, the Sounders were through.
Eventual champion Portland, a team Seattle had beaten twice in the regular season, awaited on the other side for what would have been an all-Cascadia conference final.
In some ways, it has been downhill for the Sounders ever since Marshall’s header smashed into the back of the net.
“We should have been probably a bit more smarter about it – a bit more savvy, a bit more veteran,” Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “Celebrate that moment, drag it out and kill the franticness of it, make sure we’re switched on for the next couple of minutes.
“You’re on such a high. On the same token, veterans know that you’re most vulnerable when a big thing goes your way like that.”
Dallas won a corner kick of its own less than a minute later. The cross was headed across the box toward the back post, whether it was flicked the way it came across frame. The Sounders lost marking assignments as the ball pinged from red shirt to red shirt, and Walker Zimmerman was left alone in front to head a series-tying goal inside the right post.
“We were trying to remind each other: ‘Be sharp, be sharp. The game is not over,’” Frei said. “But we didn’t manage to do that.
“I can’t really remember the build-up or anything like that, just that it was devastating when it went into the back of the net.”
Dallas won the series in a penalty shootout, Zimmerman again beating Frei with the decisive spot kick. The Timbers defeated the victors 5-3 in the Western Conference finals and then bested Columbus in the championship game, beating Seattle to the summit as the first Northwest club to lift MLS Cup.
“We got that close,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said this week. “We were one step away from the Western Conference finals. That’s the frustration.
“We were two minutes away from winning that series. Closing out games is really, really important. Right now, we need to start games off.”
Whereas Dallas has continued its steady rise into an annual contender, the Sounders have regressed since that November night in Frisco, Texas.
Sweep out the cobwebs — FCD enters Wednesday night in first place in the Supporters’ Shield standings and 20 points above their basement-dwelling hosts. Dallas has netted 31 goals, tied for most in the West. Seattle has scored just 14 times in 17 games, fewest in the league and five fewer than any other team in the conference.
Schmid wrenched the conversation from what-if wistfulness back into the present.
Those Timbers await at Providence Park this weekend for their first rivalry match of the season, on the other side of Dallas’ untimely visit. This is not the moment for reminiscence.
“The significance for us, right now, is just getting goals,” Schmid said. “We’ve had good moments and played well in games, and just haven’t gotten goals. We need to get goals. That’s all that our focus is on.”