The Sounders exit the playoffs with a bang: Leading 2-1 in the game but tied on aggregate, Seattle traded goals with Portland in extra time and fell 4-2 in penalty kicks in the MLS Western Conference semifinals.
They’d spent more than 120 on-field minutes refusing to let the night die in a season where the four previous months saw them stave off their demise on a weekly basis.
But now, as the stunned Sounders undressed postgame one final time on Thursday night, their season was officially dead. Three times, they’d scored a pair of goals by Raul Ruidiaz and another by Nicolas Lodeiro to stave off elimination against the Portland Timbers only to see their fates sealed on misses in the penalty kicks round by Will Bruin and Osvaldo Alonso.
Dairon Asprilla converted Portland’s final attempt to send the Sounders to a 4-2 defeat in that penalty round following their 3-2 overtime victory that had knotted their Western Conference semifinal 4-4 on aggregate. The Timbers streamed on to the field in celebration, having denied the Sounders their third trip to the conference final in as many years.
[ Calkins | Sounders’ storybook season ends in world-class thud » ]
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“I’m proud of the guys, Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said afterward. “We put in a lot of effort in this game. We put in a lot of effort this season. It was a long and grueling season, so for us to find ourselves in the playoffs was a nice thing. Was really good. Like I said, it required a lot of effort on everybody’s part. We showed a lot of heart, that we care.’’
They showed it just getting Thursday’s match into overtime and providing the CenturyLink Field crowd of 39,542 some memories they won’t soon forget.
The Sounders had entered Thursday’s second semifinal leg needing to score at least once, having dropped the opener 2-1 in Portland last Sunday.
But for much of the night before things got truly interesting, it seemed the Sounders’ magic might finally run out. They’d already erased a 3-9-3 start to their season by going an unthinkable 15-2-2 afterward to reach the playoffs a record 10th straight year.
Not only that, they’d won 14 of their final 16, including five straight to end the season and secure the first-round bye.
But that all seemed destined to end in regulation as the Timbers, playing their third playoff match in eight days and fourth game in 11 days, fought valiantly to hold the Sounders off the scoreboard. A scoreless draw would be enough to push the visitors through and loomed as a possibility as the second half ticked on.
Then, finally, Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella went up for a ball in the 68th minute, only to drop it — straight into the path of an onrushing Ruidiaz, who calmly deposited it into the back of the net.
Ruidiaz’s reaction was anything but calm as he charged into a far corner of the field, where he was mobbed by ecstatic teammates. The frenzied crowd exploded as if the home team had won the MLS Cup final.
Instead, it was only the start of events that will long remain etched in their collective memories.
For only 10 minutes after that goal, the Timbers seemingly down and out, Sebastian Blanco launched a rocket from 20 yards away that beat Frei to the far post to tie the score. The equalizer stunned the crowd, the away goal meaning the Sounders needed to score again just to force overtime.
“Blanco’s goal there was a kick in the stomach,’’ Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said.
But his team didn’t quit, desperately pressing forward the final 12 minutes of regulation and nearly three more into stoppage time. Portland nearly put things away for good when Lucas Melano raced down the left side and fired a shot toward the far corner that Frei only barely got his outstretched hand on.
The Sounders pushed back up the field and — just when fans might have started to lose hope — Ruidiaz jumped on a loose ball in the box and rocketed a shot past Attinella to make it 2-1 and again tie the series on aggregate.
“Certainly, there were moments of euphoria, joy happiness,’’ Schmetzer said. “The guys never quit. Even when it was low, they were able to pick themselves back up.’’
Overtime began the same way, with the Sounders allowing a goal on an Asprilla header just three minutes in. But then, just three minutes later, a handball call in the box led to a Lodeiro penalty kick that he easily converted to draw the aggregate score equal yet again.
When the overtime ended 23 minutes later, a couple of Timbers mistakenly fell to their knees in celebration thinking they’d won the match on away goals. They failed to realize away goals scored in overtime aren’t considered aggregate tiebreakers like they are in regulation.
So, on it went to penalty kicks. Two longtime rivals bare-knuckling it to the end while their fans in the stadium and watching on television white-knuckled it along with them.
But then Bruin rang his “bad bounce’’ penalty attempt off the post, followed by Alonso firing his try straight in to Attinella. And for once, the Sounders couldn’t recover.
“You can’t always be pulling it out at the end and be scrambling to get the result, because eventually things like this are going to happen,’’ Bruin said. “It’s good when you can pull it off, but the soccer gods weren’t with us tonight.’’
And a magical ride that carried the team to record heights was abruptly over.