For the fourth time in five years, the Seattle Sounders will play for the Western Conference Championship and a chance to bring the MLS Cup back to the Emerald City.
With a 1-0 win on Tuesday night over visiting FC Dallas at Lumen Field, the Sounders will now await the winner of Thursday's other Western Conference Semifinal match between Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United. If the former wins, Seattle will play in Kansas City next Monday for the West title. If Minnesota wins, the 'Loons' will travel to the Northwest to take on the Rave Green.
Unlike last week's 3-1 win over LAFC where offensive stars Raul Ruidiaz, Nicolas Lodeiro, and Jordan Morris all scored and assisted in the playoff win, Tuesday's narrow victory saw abnormal performances by all three and featured a goal from one of the most unlikely places.
Centerback Shane O'Neill, an off-and-on starter for Seattle this season who had one career goal coming a regular season game for Colorado in 2014, appeared in Head Coach Brian Schmetzer's starting lineup in each of the last two weeks, and in the 50th minute on Tuesday, headed in what ended up being the game-winning goal. Dallas defenders left the 27-year-old centerback unmarked in the box on a Lodeiro corner kick.
The Sounders saw numerous chances for a second goal throughout the second half, but failed to connect on final dangerous passes and couldn't put a ball past goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer.
Thankfully, on an off-night for Seattle's offensive stars, FC Dallas's attack flopped even harder, leaving Sounders keeper Stefan Frei without a single shot to save. The most dangerous moment of the match came in the 63rd minute when a Michael Barrios shot hit the right post. The ball bounced back out to Andrés Ricaurte, who then struck the ball towards the bottom left corner of the net. Before it could sail in as an equalizer, centerback Yeimar Gomez Andrade stepped in front and blocked the shot away, off the line, keeping Dallas off the scoreboard.
In total, the visitors hit ten shots, four off-target and six that Seattle blocked before reaching Frei. Dallas also sent in 17 open-play-crosses compared to the Sounders' nine, most of which saw a Rave Green jersey easily head the ball away. In all ways, the final 40 minutes saw Seattle grinding out the one-goal win, including the hosts leading in duels won, 60 to 40 percent.
As one team's season now comes to an end, the Sounders' attention now turns to Missouri where Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota will face off Thursday. Needless to say, every Sounders player and supporter are huge 'Loons' fans this week.
In both playoff matches so far, Schmetzer started the exact same lineup. With additional rest and more players getting healthy, including Gustav Svensson (not medically cleared to play Tuesday), questions about the club's strategy will rage for the next six days leading up to the West Final. Of note, 24-year-old Alex Roldan, who transitioned to right back this year, is one option, or Seattle's Head Coach could start the now healthy Kelvin Leerdam, a veteran who scored in 2019 MLS Cup.
Svensson's availability affects the entire midfield including Cristian Roldan's starting position and if Joevin Jones sees the field at all. But after his goal on Tuesday, it's hard to see O'Neill being removed for the starting lineup next Monday.
Check out highlights from the 1-0 win below plus 950 KJR's Postgame Show with Kasey Keller, Pete Fewing, and Jackson Felts.