KANSAS CITY, KAN. – Seattle Sounders FC is headed to the playoffs.
The Sounders punched their ticket Saturday night with a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Kansas City Wizards. And in a way, the game mimicked the symmetry of the Sounders’ whole season: a fast start, a bit of a stagger in the middle, and then late heroics in the final reel.
In this case, Seattle jumped ahead 1-0 on the small pitch of CommunityAmerica Ballpark, slipped behind after a pair of defensive blunders early in the second half, and then drew even before getting the winner in the 76th minute when Nate Jaqua sent a ball from Freddie Ljungberg into the top of the net.
“Obviously it’s an important win,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “For a first-year franchise to make the playoffs in the first year, it hasn’t happened in a long time. … I’m proud of our team, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. I still think we can play better soccer, but that’s just me. I always think we can play better soccer. We showed a lot of desire, a lot of willpower, a lot of attitude at times on the field, and that’s important to win games.”
The victory moved the Sounders to 11-7-11 and 44 points on the season. It assures that they will be the first MLS expansion team in 11 seasons to qualify for the playoffs.
The win was also the 124th of Schmid’s MLS career, drawing him even with Bob Bradley for the league career record.
“I’ve had a lot fun coaching this sport,” Schmid said. “… And now we’re starting something new, and we’re starting to get there. That’s what makes life fun. An Irish friend of mine says: ‘If one doesn’t accept the challenges life brings you, it’s not worth living.’ ”
Results earlier in the day eliminated the Wizards (8-13-8) from playoff contention before they set foot on the pitch.
“The players played hard tonight, so I think they did a good job of focusing on the job at hand,” Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said. “Despite us getting eliminated prior to our game tonight, we all know it is important to play well at the end of this season so that we can be a better team in 2010.”
The game was a showcase of offense. Seattle took 17 shots, Kansas City 16; the Sounders put eight shots on goal, the Wizards six.
Seattle scored first when Tyrone Marshall kicked in the rebound after Wizards goalkeeper Kevin Hartman batted away a corner kick by Freddie Ljungberg.
Early in the second half, Kansas City scored on similar back-to-back goals as Zoltan Hercegfalvi and then Josh Wolff each ran onto balls that had rolled untouched through the Seattle defense.
Seattle pulled even in the 69th minute when Roger Levesque – who had subbed for Fredy Montero just six minutes earlier – headed in a bouncing ball that had been headed down to him by Marshall after a Ljungberg corner.
Jaqua’s winner came seven minutes later.
“We thought we had some chances, definitely,” Schmid said. “We hit the crossbar and Hartman came up with a couple of saves. They played very well. And they had nothing to lose so they could cheat a little bit on defense and encourage their guys to go for it. They scored a couple of good goals, and luckily for us, we had a lot of character. We stuck with it and came back and pulled out the win.”
The win assures that the Sounders cannot finish lower than fourth in the Western Conference, meaning they will not have to slide into the Eastern bracket if fewer than four clubs from the East finish among the eight playoff qualifiers.
The Sounders’ playoff seeding and opening opponent remain uncertain, pending the outcome of games next weekend.
Seattle concludes its regular season at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against FC Dallas at Qwest Field.
Dallas (11-12-6) is sixth in the Western Conference but remains in the playoff hunt.
Playoff tickets go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. Saturday.