For a little while, Thursday seemed like it encapsulated the Sounders' electric second half of the season. Then, Seattle's Western Conference semifinals match against the rival Portland Timbers went from a dream to a nightmare. And just like that, the Sounders' season was over.
How are you supposed to …
What words can describe …
How do you chronicle those 120-plus minutes with …
Seriously — what just happened there?
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The wildest playoff game in Sounders history just ended with a world-class whimper. The all-night adrenaline shots at CenturyLink Field succumbed to a thunderous thud.
The Sounders’ storybook season had survived everything the soccer gods had thrown at them this year.
But it couldn’t withstand that lightning bolt delivered in the second round of the playoffs Thursday night.
Rarely have there been so many second-half ups since this franchise came to fruition. And rarely has a postgame down been so intense.
Five dramatic goals, a lead change in extra time, then a loss in penalty kicks that led to elimination? It could have been a night for the ages. Well, maybe it still was.
If we’re talking about the dark ages.
The final result was the Timbers winning 4-2 on penalty kicks after the Sounders won 3-2 in overtime to tie the two-game series, 4-4, in aggregate. But to get the story of the game via the box score would be like getting the story of War and Peace via the inside flap.
The evening saw the Sounders’ season go from perilous, to saved, to relinquished to rescued to … oh just get a dictionary, because this one requires about half of Webster’s words. Basically, it was nuts … just in the most anticlimactic of ways.
“I mean obviously we’re down now, so the end result was not good, but certainly there were moments of joy euphoria, happiness, thinking you had the game control,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “And then it gets snatched out away from you.”
Entering the game down 2-1 on aggregate, the Sounders could have won, 1-0, on Thursday and advanced to the Western Conference finals. The first tiebreaker for an MLS playoff series is away goals, meaning the Sounders only needed one.
But for the first 68 minutes of the game, they couldn’t find that necessary score. Then, forward Raul Ruidiaz put one in the back of the net after Timbers goalie Jeff Attinella dropped the ball in front of him.
It was a gift, no doubt. But it was also appropriate that Ruidiaz was the goal-scorer. The designated player who joined Seattle midway through the season entered the game with a team-high 10 goals and had the sole Sounders score in Portland.
But if that goal provided a deafening response from the crowd, the goal by Timbers midfielder Sebastian Blanco 10 minutes later would make you think you were deaf. Just like that, Portland had muted the CenturyLink Field crowd. No grunts, no grumbles — just pure silence.
Could that really have been how it ends? Could a team that entered the playoffs having gone 14-2-1 (a second-half record) over its last 17 games end its season so solemnly?
Sure seemed like it for a second. Then Ruidiaz scored in the 93rd minute to send the game to extra time. Then Portland’s Dairon Asprilla scored three minutes into overtime to put the Timbers ahead on aggregate, which would have given them the win had the score held.
Then the Sounders scored on a Nicolas Lodeiro penalty kick to take the lead four minutes later and tie the aggregate score … and, oh, just stop it already.
The away-goal tiebreaker disappears once the game goes into extra time. If you’re confused by this, you aren’t alone. With the two-game aggregate score at 4-4 at the end of extra time, the Timbers thought they had won. They hadn’t. Penalty shots … because, of course.
Three of the first four Timbers put their PKs through, but Will Bruin and Osvaldo Alonso each missed theirs for the Sounders. So when Asprilla sneaked one past Seattle goalie Stefan Frei … that was it. Season over.
“Crazy game. It’s gonna sting for a while for me personally,” Bruin said. “But that’s how it goes in the playoffs. Sometimes you get punished on mistakes.”
For a third straight season, the Sounders needed a second-half surge just to find its way into the playoffs. But in each of the previous two seasons, that surge led to an appearance in the MLS Cup, which resulted in a title in 2016.
For a while, Thursday appeared to be a microcosm of the new Sounders way — except this time, instead of pulling it out, Seattle just tuckered out.
“It’s horrible when you lose,” Schmetzer said. “It’s horrible when you come so close. And having your arch rival celebrate like that on your home field — that hurts.”
Those last two words sum this one up. Thursday’s game could have been characterized as anything from epic to euphoric to unforgettable. Maybe in another world. In this one, it was just this: painful.