When it comes to first and last in the Sounders’ record books, Fredy Montero only wants to be associated to the refrain when it comes to goal scoring.
Montero was part of the Sounders’ first postseason team, also the inaugural year in 2009. After an early strike from FC Cincinnati on Tuesday night, the game clock seemed to be ticking toward the end of a 13-year streak of making the Major League Soccer playoffs because comeback victories are rare for Seattle and the club can’t lose a match if it wants to stay in postseason contention.
When the ball found Montero inches outside the box with a quartet of FC Cincinnati defenders closing in, he knew the season weighed at his feet. The club’s all-time leading scorer — including the first goal — took a gutsy swipe at the net. And similarly to the first more than a decade ago, the powerful shot zipped past FC Cincinnati keeper Roman Celentano and buried into the back of the goal.
The Sounders had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Lumen Field; the one point earned ultimately might not be enough to get Seattle above the playoff line come the season finale Oct. 9. But the end didn’t come Tuesday night.
“I’ve been in MLS long enough to know that if you’re not mathematically eliminated, there’s still hope,” said Sounders forward Will Bruin, a 12-year league veteran. (A draw) makes it really tough, but there’s no poor us or feel sorry for us. This is a situation we put ourselves in.”
A significant portion of the announced crowd of 31,291 were not in their seats. Those who were suffered another dent in their belief and confidence early in the opening half.
The Sounders’ defensive line played high, center back AB Cissoko botching a tackle that gave FCC forward Brenner space to frolic in before beating keeper Stefan Frei one-on-one for a right-footed goal in the 24th minute.
It was the Brazilian’s sixth goal in his past three MLS matches, all against Western Conference opponents.
Bruin had a nice play for a header in the 35th minute, but Celentano stretched to make the impressive one-handed save.
As the sides headed into the break, most gathered at Lumen Field, including the Sounders players and technical staff, understood losing to be a death knell to the club’s playoff hopes. Seattle is now five points below Minnesota for the seventh and final berth in the Western Conference with two matches remaining — none against teams ahead of them in the standings.
Tuesday’s match was rescheduled from the spring. MLS made the accommodation to help the Sounders focus on their ultimately successful CONCACAF Champions League run.
But the match falling at the end of the FIFA international break meant the Sounders were missing five players due to national team call-ups. Co-captain Nico Lodeiro was out due to a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
Among the changes to the starting lineup Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer was forced to make was slotting in midfielder Ethan Dobbelaere and Cissoko. It was their first appearances since July for each of the players.
Seattle did see the return of midfielder Cristian Roldan, who underwent groin surgery in August. He subbed on in the 55th minute for Cissoko and was the first to inject Lumen with hope.
Shortly after, midfielder Kelyn Rowe had a low cross to Montero for the equalizer. Roldan nearly had the winner in the 60th minute but it narrowly missed the goal.
“Physically, I felt good,” Roldan said. “Obviously I felt like I was a little bit rusty. Sometimes having a presence on the field and talking more, communicating, making runs off the ball can help the team and that was my intentions — to come in and bring that spark.”
Rowe was ejected in the 69th minute and the Sounders had to play the final 20-plus minutes down a man. FCC was daring in the box and Frei had one of his signature saves in the 76th minute when forward Brandon Vazquez tried to hook a right-footed shot across the line.
Montero nearly had a winner in the 71st minute off a free kick. The ball sailed wide of goal.
“The entire second half, we played with a little bit more intensity,” Roldan said. “Subs played a part there and Cincinnati also played a little bit more defensive just because of the game script. Even with the red card, we were pushing forward. We knew what was on the line and we felt like we wanted to leave everything on the field.
“That’s the attitude and the messaging that we’ve had over the last five, six games because it’s crunchtime.”
The Sounders (12-16-4) play their final road match of the regular season when they face Sporting Kansas City on Sunday.
NOTE: Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz (Peru) and defender Alex Roldan (El Salvador) started for their national teams when the sides played a friendly on Tuesday. But Ruidiaz suffered an apparent leg injury and was subbed off in the 12th minute of the eventual 3-1 win for Peru.
“I watched the game, we’ll deal with Raul when he comes back,” Schmetzer said.