HOUSTON – They don’t call it “sudden death” in soccer, but sometimes it feels that way.
A single goal over 210 minutes of playoff action was all that separated the Houston Dynamo from Seattle Sounders FC in their first-round MLS playoff series. But that goal in overtime at Robertson Stadium on Sunday made all the difference, sending the Dynamo on to the Western Conference final while ending the Sounders’ inaugural season.
“You lose in the playoffs and there’s no tomorrow, and unfortunately there’s no tomorrow for us,” Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “But all credit to Houston, they kept battling, and Brian (Ching) scored one of the best goals he’s ever scored. … It bounced kindly for him, Brian turned inside of it, and put it right in the upper corner.”
What seemed a kind bounce for Houston registered as a fatal blunder to the Sounders. The deciding moment came in the sixth minute of overtime, when Seattle reserve Roger Levesque misplayed a cross into the penalty area. The ball went to Ching near the penalty spot, and he finished on a volley past Keller.
“Their left wing crossed it in over everybody,” Levesque said. “I tried to clear it. Brian Mullan jumped up, I didn’t expect him to be there. It kind of bounced off my foot, off him, and Brian Ching put it in the back of the net. He put a good strike on it.”
It was the only goal scored in this two-legged playoff series, including 90-minute games in Seattle and Houston, plus 30 minutes of extra time.
“It was a hard-fought game; it was a physical game,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “They created some good chances – I thought we dodged some bullets. I thought we had some chances as well – missed them. At the end, there was a little bit of a mistake in the back, and Brian Ching buried a good goal. That’s not much that separates those two teams.”
Much like the series-opener on Oct. 29, both teams had chances.
On Sunday, Houston had 15 shots and put five on goal; Seattle took 10 shots and put three on goal. Tyrone Marshall, Freddie Ljungberg, Fredy Montero and Nate Jaqua all had near-misses to think about on the long flight home.
In general, Houston seemed to have better control in the first half, Seattle seemed to take over in the second. Overall, Schmid didn’t think Seattle played its best game.
But as chance after chance went unclaimed, Schmid began to believe the series was destined to be determined by penalty kicks.
Keller had another thought.
“Everybody was just waiting for that one big mistake or that one piece of magic,” he said.
Finally, Levesque made the mistake and Ching made the magic.
“I would like to think that doesn’t define the series,” Levesque said. “At the same time, they’re the ones who are moving on. That’s all it takes.”
As the game wound down, the orange-tinted crowd of 27,465 chanted, beat their drums, and set off orange flares in one end zone.
In the closing seconds, the chippy game nearly got out of hand as Seattle defender James Riley was sent off with a red card, and the teams got into a short shoving match.
With the final whistle, the Sounders shook hands with the Dynamo, trudged past 100 or so applauding rave green-clad Seattle fans, and headed into the locker room to take off the uniform for the last time this season.
“I’m proud of what this team has done, what this organization has done,” Schmid said. “… To have won an Open Cup, to have had a winning record in the season, to have been two points away from the Supporters Shield, and to have lost to a team who has been the dominant team in the playoffs, has been a pretty proud (season) for an expansion. But we don’t want mediocrity, and we don’t want to accept mediocrity. Our goal is to always win a championship and the sting of today will hopefully help us as we move to next year.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808