It was a cold, rainy night in the Pacific Northwest, but there was plenty of heat at CenturyLink Field as the Seattle Sounders advance to the Western Conference semi-finals after a physical and emotional battle with Sporting Kansas City.
Seattle Sounders Advance After Testy 1-0 Win Over SKC
The Sounders, who were down and out from any form of contention in the middle of the summer, are victorious in a playoff game thanks to a Nelson Valdez header in the 88th minute that should not have counted.
Rough Night for the Refs
It’s impossible to examine this match without also taking a look at the work of referee Ismail Elfath and his assistants Peter Manikowski and Corey Parker. The match came down to two huge second half moments. The first came at the 52 minute mark when Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler nodded a free kick home, but was ruled offside. It was a close, close play. To some pairs of eyes, Besler was level with the defender. Others saw him centimeters off when the ball was played in.
The second defining moment was the lone goal of the game. In the 88th minute, Valdez headed home a Joevin Jones cross, but was certainly offside. All replays showed that quite conclusively. The assistant kept his flag down, however, and the goal counted.
Kansas City never truly threatened again.
Those aren’t the only officiating grey areas from this match, though. SKC players were the target of many aggressive challenges all night long, including a couple from Ozzie Alonso that could have resulted in a sending off or two. The first came against Roger Espinoza, who was hacked in the chins by a late sliding Alonso. Only a yellow was shown, but a red certainly would have been justified. Later in the second half, Benny Feilhaber was the target of a late slide from Alonso that caused him to lay on the turf for a bit. No card was shown, be a second yellow certainly could have.
Feilhaber was rather unhappy with that challenge as, minutes later, he lashed out at Elfath for keeping the card in his pocket. It was somewhat reminiscent of Jermaine Jones’s charge at an official in a playoff match last year. The only thing that kept Feilhaber on the pitch was not making physical contact with the official.
Valdez Earns Some Redemption
Nelson Valdez ended up playing the hero for a Seattle team that only managed one shot on target for the entire night. That one was all they needed, though. Since signing a designated player contract last August, Valdez had only scored one regular season goal and one in the playoffs. He has only started 13 games over the year and a half he’s been with the club. This goal certainly brought him some relief.
Nelson Valdez: “It’s felt like there’s been a big mountain on top of me all season. Finally, with the goal, that mountain went away.”
— Matt Pentz (@mattpentz) October 28, 2016
Of the now three goals the Paraguayan has scored in Rave Green, tonight’s was certainly the biggest. It came at a time when Seattle was struggling to get any real chances. Despite relatively equal possession numbers, the Sounders shots were few and horribly inaccurate. Other than an 83rd minute sliding opportunity for Roman Torres, nothing was bringing the supporters out of their seats.
That was, until Valdez turned in a Joevin Jones cross with just the slightest of touches with his head.
Onward to FC Dallas… Again
Seattle will now stay in Seattle for a Sunday matchup with FC Dallas. It is the third consecutive year the two are meeting at this stage in the playoffs. Last fall, the two sides required penalties to find a winner. Dallas keeper Jesse Gonzalez ended up stealing the show in that shootout to send his side through after the sides exchanged 2-1 results.
In 2014, the Sounders grabbed an away goal in a first leg draw before winning the second in a scoreless draw.
The first leg of the rubber series begins on Sunday night at 9:30pm eastern time in Seattle. You can check out all the action of FS1.