With three goals — including two by Nicolas Lodeiro — in eight minutes, the Sounders emphatically sent FC Dallas back home with a 3-0 loss in the two-game aggregate Western Conference semifinals.
The match began in a literal haze, as the residue of pregame pyrotechnics hung over CenturyLink Field like a shroud, making the players appear almost ghost-like as they scurried about the pitch.
But by the end of the night – as good a night, as fun a night, as dominant a night as this franchise has ever had – the Sounders’ players stood out not just with vivid clarity, but seemed almost larger-than-life.
Their 3-0 victory over a stunned FC Dallas, the best MLS had to offer during the regular season, was surely the peak of Sounders’ playoff history. And the flurry of those three goals in a wild span of eight maniacal minutes, was a stretch that will surely be remembered for as long as the Sounders play soccer.
That’s not to say that the final story has been written, mind you. In the two-leg playoff format, this is essentially halftime, with the series concluding on Sunday in Dallas.
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While the Sounders are in a hugely advantageous position for the aggregate-score outcome – particularly with the clean sheet, that would favorably affect the away-goal tiebreaker if it somehow came into play – coach Brian Schmetzer was preaching, hard, that the series is not over.
“If we come down saying we’ve already won, that will be big mistake, and we won’t allow that to happen,’’ he said.
But it would take a monumental collapse for the Sounders to not wrap this up. Even then, however, their big, bad, wolf – the Los Angeles Galaxy – could well be waiting in the Western Conference finals. In another of the Sounders’ shining franchise moments, they beat the Galaxy in the 2014 season finale on two late goals by Marco Pappa to clinch the Supporters’ Shield – only to fall to Galaxy in the Western Conference finals.
So excuse Schmetzer if he wasn’t basking, quite yet, in the glory and splendor of it all – the header by that sudden scoring machine, Nelson Valdez, that started it all in the 50th minute; the strike by Nicolas Lodeiro in the 55th minute off a great feed by Jordan Morris after Morris was sprung by a perfect pass from Joevin Jones; and the Lodeiro breakaway at the 58th minute that sent the crowd into delirium.
It was eight minutes that shook, well, not the world, but the soccer world in Seattle, and perhaps the entirety of MLS. Yet in the aftermath, Schmetzer was just thinking of the here and now, and the immediate consequences, not this match’s historical significance or possible lack of precedence.
“I’d have to Google some stats,’’ he said with a smile. “I’m sure (Clint) Dempsey over the years might have had some flurries like that. Right now, I’m just thinking about tonight’s eight minutes.”
It was eight minutes that came after a first half in which the two teams felt each other out, typical for the opening match of a two-game series. While Dallas coach Oscar Pareja, whose team won both the Supporters Shield and the U.S. Open Cup, would say he thought Dallas “had control of the game” in the first half, it was Seattle that had three golden scoring opportunities they couldn’t convert.
But in the second half, it was all Seattle, and they found the net in frenetic fashion, and in triplicate.
“So exciting,’’ Cristian Roldan said. “Also a relief, because we don’t want to go to Dallas with 1-0 victory, because Dallas is really good at home. Seeing three go in was definitely a relief more than anything, to be honest.”
To Schmetzer’s coaching eye, it was the satisfaction of watching the Seattle players take the game plan, and turn the abstract into the tangible.
“I’m extremely pleased by the way they were able to interpret the game tonight and take what the game gave them,’’ he said. “As a staff, that’s what made us proud. We were able to incorporate some of the ideas and get a breakthrough win like tonight.”
A breakthrough win, and perhaps a keepsake victory. But that’s a story for another day, when the smoke has truly cleared.
“Look, this club has had some good performances in big games,’’ Schmetzer said. “You can start back from 2002 in the USL when I was coaching. We had some good performances back then throughout the years. In ’09, Sigi (Schmid, the coach when Seattle joined MLS), up until now, we’ve had good performances.
“The club has always been a good club. We’ve always tried to go out and win games, win trophies. I think that culture, that team mentality, always has been here throughout the years.”
But Seattle may never have had a soccer night quite like Sunday’s.