In any scoreless match, it only takes one moment of brilliance to flip both a result and its wide range of emotions. Sure, earning a point on the road in a late season contest looks good on paper. But Jordan Morris wasn't leaving San Jose with only one.
In the 94th minute, Morris outran Earthquakes defender Florian Jungwirth for a ball slowly bouncing towards the San Jose keeper Daniel Vega, took one touch, then chipped the ball past Vega and into the back of the net as the Seattle Sounders captured all three points and jumped to third place in the Western Conference on Sunday evening.
"The team doesn’t stop fighting, keeps pushing...They made it difficult on us. Go up a man, go back to even, lots of emotions, but the guys kept pushing and it was a good result,” Morris said.
Morris' heroics earned the winger Budweiser Man of the Match honors, but don't let the broadcast award discount the equally heroic performance by Seattle keeper Stefan Frei, who stood on his head all night, making game-saving saves both early and late.
The final stats show San Jose out-shot Seattle 23-9, out-possessed Seattle with 61.9%, and out-passed Seattle 88 to 73%. Yet Frei finished with 10 saves, double that of Vega, and kept the Earthquakes off the stat sheet in the one category that matters: goals.
With Morris' goal, Seattle jumped the Los Angeles Galaxy, who lost on Sunday to the last-place Vancouver Whitecaps at home 4-3 and fell to fourth place, plus create a tie with Minnesota United in second place at 15-10-8. The Loons, however, hold the tie-breaker with Seattle with a +10 goal differential. The Sounders sit at only +2. Below the Galaxy, Real Salt Lake (5th), Portland (6th), FC Dallas (7th), San Jose (8th), and even Colorado (9th) could all still make the playoffs in the wild Western Conference.
With Decision Day next weekend, the final match of the regular season for each club, simultaneously kicking off around 1:15 p.m. PT, MLS will see Seattle and Minnesota squaring off for the precious second seed. San Jose also travels to Portland for a match that may eliminate one team from playoff contention.
"It’s a grind at this point," Cristian Roldan said. "We’re going to play another tough opponent in Minnesota at home. They have a lot of quality so we have to be aware of their best players on the field.”
As for Sunday, the moment of brilliance from Morris and busy day for Frei guided Seattle to victory and finally some momentum as the regular season comes to an end. Centerback Xavier Arreaga, for his second straight match, saw two yellow cards and was sent off in the second half, meaning he will also miss next Sunday's bout with the Loons.
"The first yellow was not against Xavier. [Danny] Hoesen was grabbing him from the halfway line. It’s unfortunate that the referee made that call, but that was not a yellow against Xavier," Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said.
The good news is that centerback Roman Torres returned to the first team this week after serving his ten-match suspension for violating the MLS Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Policy due to taking a performance enhancing drug. Torres will undoubtedly slide in beside Kim Kee-hee against Minnesota next week.
On the injury front, the Sounders are finally close to full-health, as Nicolas Lodeiro continues to recover from a lower back injury suffered against FC Dallas a week and a half ago. Victor Rodriguez has been serving at the team's #10 in the center of the attacking midfield and will likely continue to until Lodeiro returns from the injury. In Sunday's win, Rodriguez recorded two shots and one on-goal.
Listen to Sports Radio KJR's Postgame Show below from the 1-0 win in San Jose featuring Jackson Felts, Pete Fewing, and Wade Webber breaking down the action and looking ahead to next week's regular season finale.