San Jose’s desperation turned into a Stefan Frei highlight reel.
The Earthquakes needed a win Sunday at home against the Sounders to secure their MLS playoff hopes. But every angle San Jose used to take a whack at Frei’s goal, the Sounders’ Swiss keeper was there for the denial.
Riding Frei’s strong play, Sounders forward Jordan Morris provided the lone goal in second-half stoppage time to defeat the Quakes 1-0 at Avaya Stadium. The result put Seattle in a second-place tie with Minnesota United FC in the Western Conference after United played a 1-1 draw against LAFC on Sunday.
Seattle hosts Minnesota next weekend at CenturyLink Field.
“What I like about this is we did it on our own against a very, very good team,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer via audio provided by MLS.
Seattle (15-10-8) clinched its league-record 11th straight postseason berth because of a San Jose loss last week. But the Sounders entered Sunday’s match fourth in the West and knew a win would keep them in contention for the coveted second place, which grants home-field advantage through the conference semifinals.
Under first-year coach Matias Almeyda, the Quakes (13-15-5) rolled out their unique style of maintaining pressure on the ball and turning the match into a track meet. The frenzy created a barrage of attempts at the goal, stretching Frei’s 6-foot-3 frame right, left, high and low to prevent the ball from burying into the net.
Frei finished with 10 saves. The club record in a match is 11, set by Frei in June 2018.
The Sounders, however, couldn’t break San Jose’s pressure to get enough clean looks at the goal until a slip in stoppage time. Quakes forward Magnus Eriksson sent a lofty header toward his own goal from the midfield that Morris and San Jose defender Florian Jungwirth tried to chase down.
Morris beat Jungwirth for the first touch then kept his pace to send a right-footed shot past Quakes keeper Daniel Vega for the game-winner.
“Sometimes you have to take a chance,” said Morris via audio provided by MLS. The goal is Morris’ 10th of the season.
“Once the final whistle blew, it was disappointing, but everyone came in the locker room and said there’s still hope,” said San Jose midfielder Shea Salinas via quotes provided by MLS. The Quakes are on a five-game losing streak.
“Win and we’re in,” Salinas continued. “We’re excited for that.”
Seattle was without center midfielder Nico Lodeiro for a second straight game. He injured his lower back in a scoreless draw against FC Dallas on Sept. 18. Lodeiro gradually increased his participation in training last week and was outfitted with a flak jacket but remained in Seattle to continue rehab and possibly return for the regular-season finale against Minnesota.
Left winger Victor Rodriguez replaced Lodeiro and played better with striker Raul Ruidiaz to put pressure on San Jose’s defense. The duo teamed to push the ball up from the center circle to get Rodriguez in position to send a cross to Kelvin Leerdam in the 10th minute. The attempt failed at the net.
Seattle’s clearest shot in the opening half appeared to be Morris’ left-footed swing in the 13th minute. He flung his hands to his head in frustration as Vega deflected the attempt with his feet.
The Sounders had five shots on target and only possessed the ball for 38.6% of the match. They couldn’t even take advantage of a brief stretch where San Jose played a man down.
Defender Xavier Arreaga, who returned to the Sounders starting lineup after a one-game suspension for being shown two yellow cards against FC Dallas, was kicked in the thigh by Quakes defender Tommy Thompson in the 56th minute, sending the latter off.
Arreaga, however, was sent off with a second yellow card in the 71st minute for unsporting behavior. Both players will be suspended for the regular-season finales next week.
San Jose forward Danny Hoesen took the ensuing free kick for the Arreaga foul, the ball ricocheting off the post to keep the game scoreless.
“I don’t think we played well by any means,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan via audio provided by MLS. “We expected it was going to be a difficult game. We all embraced that role and grinded it out.”
Schmetzer was able to substitute center back Roman Torres into the game in the 88th minute for Brad Smith. It’s the first minutes Torres has played since August due to a 10-match suspension for violating the MLS substance-abuse policy.
Torres will likely be in the starting lineup against Minnesota to replace Arreaga.
“The fouls, red cards certainly changed things,” Schmetzer said. “Even when they went to a man down, you could tell they were desperate. They were still pressing the issue. At times, you looked and it was still even (statistical) numbers. And then the flip happened. Xavier got his second yellow and our team dug down, dug deep and we were able to get the win.”