Andy Rose’s 94th minute strike last night didn’t just settle a thrilling showdown between Western Conference contenders or widen the gap between the first-place Sounders and third-place Real Salt Lake to eight points.
His strike, the game-winner in Seattle’s 3-2 victory over RSL at CenturyLink Field on Friday night, also clinched a playoff berth for the Sounders.
Seattle is the first team in MLS to lock up a postseason berth and does so with seven matches to spare — 19 points separate it and Portland, the current first-team-out in the West.
But with the second-place L.A. Galaxy still close in the rearview mirror — L.A. is four points back and the sides play each other twice in the final week of the regular season — don’t expect complacency to set in.
“We want to win games,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “We want to get points. We want to try to make this a very special year. We have a special opportunity on Tuesday to win another Open Cup and Philly will be feeling motivated because this is their first opportunity to do that. We are going to be equally motivated, so winning always helps build confidence.”
The Sounders got a reminder of the danger of losing focus Friday night.
On the first Salt Lake goal, Luke Mulholland was given far too much room on the right wing and used it to pick out a charging Javier Morales. Morales, in turn, had enough time to settle himself and aim a pinpoint shot into the bottom corner. The Seattle defense was less culpable on RSL’s second — Joao Plata’s strike took touches off both Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso and the right-hand post before dribbling into the net, after all — but it did allow a dangerous forward to wind up and fire from the edge of the box.
“I thought the goal we gave up was a little bit soft and then the one with Morales he was wide open with the box,” Schmid said.
With the club’s first-ever Supporter’s Shield and a potentially historic treble still on the table, the Sounders have plenty of motivation for the stretch run. But they can’t always count on last-minute strikes to cancel out those momentary lapses.
By the numbers: 50.2. No, you weren’t imagining how evenly matched both teams were on Friday night. They nearly shared possession right down the middle, with the Sounders edging the advantage by just two-tenths of a percentage point.
In their own words: “(Obafemi) Martins—he’s an unbelievable player. His game is just so tricky, especially on this turf even more, so shifty. So it’s those guys—Martins and Dempsey—guys we have to look after. But the way we feel is the best way to defend them is when we actually have the ball. So the times we did we can keep them quiet but they’re always dangerous on the counter,” RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman
Up next: Sounders at Philadelphia Union in the U.S. Open Cup final, Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. PST.