It’s hard to describe the feeling of clinching your first playoff berth.
Everything was new when Fredy Montero helped the Sounders secure their franchise first in 2009. When the club advanced for a fourth straight year in 2012, the feeling was of expectation that a berth was the minimum the Sounders could do.
And it was — just not for Montero.
Seattle’s all-time leading scorer tested his talents across the world after the 2012 MLS season. Among his stops were three seasons with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, where the club only advanced to the postseason once, the two-game 2017 run marking Montero’s last.
Montero is back in Rave Green and Saturday, against his former team, the Colombian helped the Sounders qualify for another postseason berth behind a 4-1 win against Vancouver at Lumen Field. The 13th consecutive playoff appearance continues Seattle’s MLS record run and one of the longest in North American sports.
“I feel blessed to be here because nobody talks about making the playoffs, we are always thinking about defending that first seed — first place,” Montero said of the team’s mentality. “Seattle Sounders fans deserve a team that’s always looking to win. We showed no less than that this year. We’re close to finalizing that job. And hopefully in the games to come, we get more victories and (will) be in first place.”
The Sounders (17-5-6) are atop the MLS Western Conference. Clinching the No. 1 seed will not only give Seattle home-field advantage, the team will get a first-round bye.
Vancouver (9-9-10) entered the Cascadia Cup matchup one of the best defensive teams in MLS. The Whitecaps hadn’t conceded more than one goal in an MLS game since July and hadn’t allowed a goal in 332 minutes of play.
The Sounders wiped those stats out in the span of 14 minutes.
In a clinical corner kick sequence, Seattle defender Shane O’Neill worked a header into goal in the fifth minute. Joao Paulo and Kelyn Rowe batted the ball back and forth before Rowe sent a powerful cross into the box for O’Neill to knock home.
Sounders midfielder Nico Benezet added to Vancouver’s problems with his own score in the 14th minute. The summer signee collected a pass from forward Will Bruin and then used his first touch to get better positioning for a right-footed strike.
The goal is Benezet’s second of the season. Bruin has four assists.
Seattle’s crisp passing and offensive threats waned as the opening half progressed. Sounders keeper Stefan Frei was challenged twice before Whitecaps forward Brian White created a score off a rebound in first-half stoppage time.
“We did not play well the last 15 minutes of the of the first half,” Bruin said. “Guys were like, let’s just get into the locker room and regroup. So, it kind of sucks to give up that goal right before the half because 2-1 is the most dangerous score in soccer. They score right before halftime and they think they’ve got some momentum, some belief. That’s what we talk about in the locker room — we need to take hold of the second half.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said it was Bruin’s speech that sparked the team.
“I did my normal spiel, but Will said to the group, ‘There are more goals in this game for us,’” Schmetzer said. “And he was right.”
The Sounders returned to form after the break. Bruin jump-started his own goal with a setup pass to Rowe on the wing. The latter sent a cross in for Montero, who held until Bruin made his run for a well-placed shot above Vancouver keeper Thomas Hasal’s reach.
Brazilian forward Leo Chu, who was signed along with Benezet in August, closed out the scoring with a strike in second-half stoppage time. It’s his second through all competitions this season.
“Step-by-step, we’re building the history of the club,” said Leo Chu, as translated from Portuguese. “And one of the reasons why I came here is exactly that. I want to place my name in the history of the club.”
Benezet and Rowe were a new-look right side because of international duties for multiple Sounders players. Benezet filled in for Cristian Roldan (U.S.) while Rowe slotted in for Alex Roldan (El Salvador). The duo worked well with Bruin to keep the Sounders formidable in the attack.
Rowe finished with three assists in the win.
“Kelyn is a great team-guy,” Bruin said. “He can fill a lot of roles. “He’s always going to keep possession of the ball, he gets into tackles and he can play that killer pass just like on my goal. He finds Fredy, Fredy finds me and we score. So, it’s good to have (Rowe’s) quality out there and it’s great whenever you have a player that can plug in at different positions.”
Vancouver was also missing starters due to international duty. But the Whitecaps had White, who’s scored nine goals in the club’s past 10 matches.
However, Seattle showed it’s truly the best defensive team in MLS. The Rave Green have only conceded 23 goals this season — fewest in the league. Frei finished with two saves.
The Sounders have a rare week without a match. The club travels to play the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.
“I gave them two days off,” Schmetzer said. “I hope they use that wisely, and they recover physically and they recover emotionally. But we’re going to go back to work because the season is not over. We want to finish in first place.”