Seattle didn’t just survive on Wednesday. That uncertain side we saw close out the season? The one whose rebound from their precipitous fall sill left them skittish against Portland, Dallas, and Los Angeles? The Sounders left them in Tukwila, instead giving their best performance since defeating Real Salt Lake in September. In beating Colorado 2-0, the Sounders took a huge step toward realizing their immense potential.
Seattle was the better team from the opening kickoff, generating a chance within three minutes when a reorganized Rapids defense got too narrow, leaving room in the left of the area for Adam Moffat to fire off an uncontested shot. Shane O’Neill, normally a central defender, had been given the surprise assignment at right back, but as Seattle moved inside-out, the 20-year-old was caught inside. Clint Irwin’s punch on Moffat’s shot kept the match scoreless.
The Sounders had another huge chance in the 13th minute when Moffat popped up in the right side of the box and beat Irwin from a sharp angle. Drew Moor, however, had dropped back to the line to block the shot, the ensuing rebound barely eluding Lamar Neagle before being cleared.
Controlling the midfield, Seattle was preventing Colorado’s holding pair (Hendry Thomas, Nathan Sturgis) from connecting with attacking midfielder Martín Rivero. With the game staying in the middle of the park, the Rapids couldn’t use their speed out wide. At the same time, Clint Dempsey was taking advantage of a slow start from Colorado’s holders, managing the game with his distribution high in midfield. With Eddie Johnson’s movement into wide areas opening up the defense (as Lamar Neagle probed), the first half-hour was all Seattle.
In the 28th minute, the hosts’ play paid off. Again moving from right-to-left through the midfield, Dempsey found Johnson outside the penalty area before the ball went wide to an oncoming Leo González. The Sounders left back hit a cross into penalty area chaos, but when the clearance went to an abandoned Brad Evans in the right of the area, the U.S. international chest-trapped and shot into the far side of goal, putting Seattle up 1-0.
When the game resumed Seattle was without right back DeAndre Yedlin, the rookie having turned his ankle just before halftime. They were also without the same level of control they exerted over the first 30 minutes, Colorado’s intensity having picked up with the second half whistle. Going forward, however, the Rapids were still having trouble connecting, with the half’s best early chance coming when a Seattle substitute Marc Burch’s direct kick nailed Irwin’s crossbar.
Once Colorado brought Vicente Sanchez on for Rivero, the Rapids started generating chances, most notably down their left, opposite Evans at right back. Chris Klute was starting to come into the game from left back, and Deshorn Brown was getting opportunities to use his speed against the slower Evans. In the 56th minute, Brown went close (but over) with a shot from just outside the box.
But Colorado’s ascendency proved benign and short-lived, and after a few minutes on the back foot, Seattle adjusted. When they weren’t outright stopping Colorado’s approaches they were still poised for counter attacks. Osvaldo Alonso, strong all night at the base of midfield, was bursting out of his deep-sitting role to try and help Johnson, Neagle, and Dempsey find a match-sealing goal.
That dynamic persisted until near the end of regulation, when Seattle lost their starting goalkeeper. Michael Gspurning, under no pressure on a ball kicked long toward his area, came two yards out of his box to catch the bouncer. After a collision with the late arriving Edson Buddle, Gspurning was shown a straight red card, having intentionally handled a ball outside his area.
It wasn’t long, however, until the 10-man Sounders put the match away. In the 93rd minute, Eddie Johnson got behind the Rapids defense and went in alone on Clint Irwin. As the Colorado keeper came off his line, Johnson put his right-footed shot inside the right post, giving Seattle some needed insurance.
Despite the late drama, Seattle gave their most impressive performance since September, and while a particularly aimless Colorado played a part in their dominance, the Sounders deserve their share of credit, too. With strong performances from Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey supported by a stalwart midfield. the Sounders were never truly challenged. Convincing in their control, Seattle have earned their place in the West’s final four.