Will Bruin scored twice as the Sounders, who are still alive for a first-round bye, beat Dallas 4-0.
It was so simple, in retrospect.
In the 31st minute of Sunday’s match between the Sounders and FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field, Seattle’s Clint Dempsey gathered a bouncing ball in the middle of his attacking half. Dallas defender Matt Hedges took an unwise step forward to cut Dempsey off, allowing Victor Rodriguez to sprint into the space he vacated. Dempsey’s pass hit Rodriguez in stride, and the Spanish winger curled a shot inside the right-hand post and the Sounders led 1-0.
It looked simple, but it was at odds with much of Seattle’s season. They’ve lacked consistent goal scoring from the time the season kicked off way back in March. It looked simple, but Rodriguez’s goal was loaded with consequence — as were the pair of insurance tallies Will Bruin added in the second half and Lamar Neagle’s superfluous header in stoppage time.
The 4-0 win locked up the Sounders’ ninth consecutive postseason berth, another achievement that can feel deceptively straightforward and be taken for granted. With Los Angeles out of the running, Seattle’s streak is the longest in Major League Soccer. As astutely pointed out by local sports historian Frank MacDonald, that run is second only to the Sonics’ 10 straight NBA playoff appearances from 1991-2000 in Seattle sporting lore.
“This group, this team … this franchise is committed to winning,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I think that shows in now being the only club to make the playoffs nine years in a row. That is a fantastic achievement. It stems from the culture of the club, and the guys that put it in every game and every day in practice. … You have everybody pulling in the right direction for this franchise, and I think we should all take pride in that.”
In marked contrast to what happened to the U.S. Men’s National Team on Tuesday night, results broke Seattle’s way around the Western Conference. The Sounders (13-9-11) are tied with second-place Portland with 50 points each, though the Sounders lose the tiebreaker with Portland as they have one less win (14 to 13).
And as first-place Vancouver and Portland play each other during next Sunday’s finales, Seattle can clinch a first-round bye into the conference semifinals with a win over 10th-place Colorado at CenturyLink.
Dallas came in playing for its postseason life, and that desperation was evident early on Sunday. FCD had more than 60 percent of the possession in the opening 15 minutes. It never really turned that intent into clear-cut scoring chances, and the danger of such laxity was underlined in the 12th minute when Dempsey forced Jesse Gonzalez into a strong-handed save from close range.
Dempsey, who like Seattle’s five other internationals returned from national-team duty straight into the starting lineup, was on his game throughout. Schmetzer wondered earlier this week how the USMNT’s shocking elimination from World Cup contention would impact Dempsey’s psyche. The 34-year-old was desperately hoping to make a fourth career Cup appearance and break his tie with Landon Donovan atop the country’s goal-scoring charts next summer in Russia.
“He was as upbeat as he could (be),” Schmetzer said. “He wanted to push past the disappointment of not being in the World Cup. He wanted to be laser-sharp in his focus to help us repeat as champions. I’m summarizing, but that’s what he said. Although he might have been held off the score sheet tonight, I think you saw a motivated Clint. … He’s all in.”
Dempsey’s pass set up Rodriguez’s opener, and his shot set up Bruin’s goal that made it 2-0 off the rebound in the 64th minute.
The third, added just three minutes later, was similarly straightforward. Rodriguez shimmied through a series of defenders in the Dallas penalty area, and though he was eventually knocked off the ball, it deflected right to Bruin’s feet with the goal mouth exposed. Neagle provided the final blow in stoppage time, leaping for a free header off a corner kick and splashing it into the back of the net.
“From my experiences, a lot of teams go through little dry spells,” Bruin said. “Once you get that first one, you get the second one, and guys start to play more free. Any time you’re hitting the back of the net like that, it feels good for everybody.”