SEATTLE — Slumped to end the regular season, but perfect — so far — in postseason.
Even if it came with a late and bizarre scare.
The Sounders had gone seven games without a victory entering the Western Conference knockout round Wednesday against Colorado, but they prevailed when it counted. Seattle got goals from Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson, and survived a head-scratching gaff from goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, to beat the Rapids 2-0 in front of 32,204 spectators at a rainy CenturyLink Field.
Pressure had been mounting on the expectation-laden Sounders, but don’t count them out just yet.
“It’s been a long time since we won a game,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “We get reminded of that all the time, so for us to win a game is just a good feeling.”
Seattle advances to the conference semifinals against Portland, which will prove to be perhaps the highest stakes in the history of a fierce rivalry that dates 38 years to the old North American Soccer League. The first leg is in Seattle at 7 p.m. Saturday, with the second leg of the aggregate-goals series at Jeld-Wen Field on Nov. 7 at 8 p.m.
Many around the league had anticipated such a matchup, but the Sounders tried to stay focused on the Rapids.
“Now,” Schmid said, “we can talk about Portland.”
Protecting a late 1-0 lead in the 85th minute, Gspurning drew attention to himself in the worst way when he intentionally used his hands outside the penalty box. A red card, and with it a one-game suspension, ensued for what the referee deemed denial of a goal-scoring opportunity.
Gspurning initially wanted to head the ball away, then thought to step back and catch it.
“I think I missed one step back,” he said.
Schmid didn’t argue the call, but felt Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin also had deserved to be ejected for a hard foul on Clint Dempsey earlier in the half during a breakaway — perhaps also denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
The Sounders brought in backup goalie Marcus Hahnemann and played a man down for the final frantic minutes, and Colorado had a good look right away on a header by Hendry Thomas that went high off an 89th-minute corner kick.
Johnson secured the victory in stoppage time, however, collecting a pass from Dempsey and finishing calmly to send his team to the next round. Dempsey earned his first assist with the team one game after recording his first goal.
The whistle blew moments later and Rapids players crumpled to the turf. Not too far away, Schmid looked to the fans and pumped his fists, enthusiastically.
“There wasn’t a guy on the field that I didn’t think battled and did what they needed to do to help us win this game,” the coach said.
The Sounders opened the scoring on a beautiful strike by Evans in the 28th minute, as a cross from the left wing by Leo Gonzalez deflected to Evans for the skillful one-touch blast past Irwin.
The Seattle lead was deserved as the home team claimed the majority of shots: 8-2 before the break and 14-7 at the end.
Colorado, which fell to 0-6-1 in Seattle, ended the season having not scored in its last four road games. Seattle’s MLS Cup dreams, on the other hand, carry on.
“It was the first step,” said Gspurning. “Now we’re thinking about the next step.”
•Tickets for the game Saturday’s game are already on sale. There are expected to be NFL lines on the field due to the Seahawks game Sunday.
• Schmid improved to 6-1 against the Rapids in the playoffs.
• Seattle’s DeAndre Yedlin was forced to come out of the game at halftime after spraining his right ankle just before the break. He was replaced by midfielder Marc Burch as Evans moved to Yedlin’s position of right back. Evans plays right back for the U.S. national team.
• Lamar Neagle and Johnson got yellow cards and will be suspended one game upon their next caution, unless it leads into MLS Cup. Gspurning is automatically suspended one game.