Nelson Valdez, of all people, fired the Sounders into the Western Conference semifinals, as Seattle edged Sporting Kansas City 1-0 in a one-game playoff on Thursday night at CenturyLink Field.

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Nelson Valdez, of all people, fired the Sounders into the Western Conference semifinals, as Seattle edged Sporting Kansas City 1-0 in a one-game playoff on Thursday night at CenturyLink Field.

These are my first impressions:

– Nelson Valdez finally broke the curse.

It had been almost exactly a year since the Paraguayan forward last scored a goal in MLS play – a year almost to the day, when his goal helped the Sounders past the Galaxy in this same round of the last postseason on Oct. 28, 2015.

So of course it was Valdez, a figure of despair in front of goal throughout this most topsy-turvy of seasons, who played the role of hero on Thursday night.

His 88th minute header – off a pinpoint cross from Joevin Jones — shaded a hard-fought, evenly-split, ill-tempered playoff match, sending CenturyLink into scenes of frenzy.

– And so Seattle and Dallas meet again.

For the third consecutive playoffs, the Sounders and FC Dallas will meet in the Western Conference semifinals, starting this Sunday at CenturyLink with kickoff time TBD.

Seattle triumphed in 2014 on away goals, while Dallas won last year’s series on penalties. Who’s up for a rubber match?

FCD is still alive for a historic triple of trophies having bagged both the U.S. Open Cup and regular-season titles.

Dallas, though, will be without two of the difference-makers that led to last year’s triumph over Seattle in the conference semis. Fabian Castillo forced through a midseason transfer to the Turkish Super Lig, while Mauro Diaz suffered a season-ending ACL injury against the Sounders less than two weeks ago. Oscar Pareja’s men will be a tough out, but without Castillo and Diaz, they’re vulnerable.

– It was a tale of two playmakers.

Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber made his presence felt in the early minutes of Thursday’s match. He chased and harried Seattle’s defenders, forcing them into turnovers. He set up teammate Paulo Nagamuro with a clean look on goal, only for Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei to answer the challenge with a diving save.

Feilhaber inspired a hot Sporting start that rocked the hosts onto their heels, even if the visitors couldn’t turn it into anything tangible on the scoreboard.

At the other end of the field, Seattle playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro took a little bit longer to find the rhythm of the game. But when he did, the influential Uruguayan turned the match on its head.

Back and forth the teams went, exchanging crunching tackles and momentum shifts. Matt Besler momentarily looked to have headed SKC in front off a Feilhaber free kick, only to be denied by the offside flag. Lodeiro won and took more set plays, trying to will his team back into the game.

By the midway point of the second half, Feilhaber was getting booed by the majority of the home crowd for his tendency to theatrically sell fouls. He nearly silenced them with 10 minutes remaining, dribbling past a slew of Sounders defenders onto to fire at Frei.

Playoff soccer had returned to the Pacific Northwest, complete with the requisite rain showers. From the start, this always felt like a game that would be fought over bitterly until the final whistle.

Valdez won it just when the game looked destined for extra time.