Seattle picks up 2-1 victory and is fifth in the Western Conference standings, just a point behind Real Salt Lake.
VANCOUVER, B.C. – Sunday evening brought together a desperate Whitecaps team and a depleted Sounders one. What resulted was 90 ragged minutes of raw emotion interspersed with only the occasional goal-scoring opportunity.
But in the 81st minute, Brad Evans knocked in the game-winning goal with a penalty kick as Seattle scrapped its way to a 2-1 victory in front of 24,937 at BC Place.
Both Vancouver midfielder Pedro Morales and Evans scored and were later red-carded, and Osvaldo Alonso netted a goal for the second straight game for Seattle.
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The Sounders (13-13-5) are now in fifth place in the MLS Western Conference and three points clear of the playoff cutoff line with a game in hand on seventh-place Portland. With its third win in eight days – two of which came on the road – Seattle can reasonably eye a home game in the elimination round, trailing fourth-place Real Salt Lake by one point.
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If last Sunday’s 4-2 win at Los Angeles was the most impressive win of the Brian Schmetzer era, this might have been an even more compelling case for the removal of the interim coaching tag.
Already without star forward Clint Dempsey for the rest of season while he undergoes evaluations on an irregular heartbeat, Seattle was also missing playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro due to a suspension for yellow-card accumulations. Andreas Ivanschitz injured his neck during Saturday’s tuneup practice session.
An attacking front already shorn of three first-choice starters took another hit less than 10 minutes into the game when Alvaro Fernandez pulled up with a left hamstring strain.
Vancouver, which needed a win to keep its fading playoff hopes alive, sensed an opportunity.
“Those are the hardest teams to play against,” veteran Seattle forward Herculez Gomez said. “That was a team that was playing for something. They were playing for their lives. A tie didn’t do them any good. You knew it was going to be a battle. You were going to have to claw. It was your all-out versus their all-out.”
Alphonso Davies, the Whitecaps’ 15-year-old winger auditioning in front of a Manchester United scout just a week after becoming the youngest player since Freddy Adu to start an MLS match, played with abandon. Davies beat Seattle substitute Oniel Fisher to the endline in the 24th minute, hustling to keep the ball in play before winning a penalty kick via Fisher’s clumsy foul.
The Sounders had plenty of excuses to wilt after Morales converted the spot kick.
They didn’t. They didn’t create much in the way of clear-cut chances in the first half, either, but Alonso buried Joevin Jones’ pinpoint cutback with his first touch.
“I’ve been pretty consistent with the story that I’ve given them ownership of the team,” Schmetzer said. “That is something that they believe in. I’ve gotten traction with that. Even when we go down a goal here, or in L.A., they have the belief in themselves and in their teammates that they can come back and make games competitive.”
At halftime, Schmetzer scrapped the 4-1-4-1 formation his team started with and went back to the 4-2-3-1 that has been a constant throughout his tenure. Instead of playing to matchups, “we pushed those aside and said, ‘Look, let’s play how we want to play,’ ” Schmetzer said. “I think that helped.”
So did Morales’ off-the-ball elbow to the side of Cristian Roldan’s face in the 53rd minute, as did Jordan Harvey’s clear handball of Evans’ cross with 10 minutes left.
Evans converted the penalty kick – three minutes or so before he was sent off for an attempted head butt directed in David Edgar’s direction – and Seattle emerged with three more valuable and unlikely points.
In what is quickly becoming the hallmark of the Schmetzer era, the Sounders did what they had to do.
“I told them before the game, it didn’t matter to me that Lodeiro was gone, that Dempsey was gone,” Schmetzer said. “Guys have to step up. Guys have to come in and do their jobs.
“Those guys know how to play. Yes, we miss Clint. Yes, we miss Nico. But we’re strong enough as a group that we found a way to win.”
|Top six teams qualify for the playoffs:|
|Real Salt Lake||12-11-9||45|