The Sounders’ Cristian Roldan (7) celebrates a Seattle goal late in the second half of an MLS playoff match against Minnesota United on Dec. 7, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The Sounders’ Cristian Roldan (7) celebrates a Seattle goal late in the second half of an MLS playoff match against Minnesota United on Dec. 7, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

18 minutes of lunacy lifts Sounders to another MLS Cup final

Seattle’s epic rally to reach the league championship game won’t soon be forgotten.

By Larry Stone / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — They call it Schmetzer Time, those playoff runs when the Seattle Sounders rise to the moment with such regularity that it has become almost an expectation.

But on Monday, it seemed like the magic had finally run out. The Sounders trailed Minnesota United FC by two goals with time tick, tick ticking away, all the way down to the 75th minute. The Loons had somehow stolen Seattle’s postseason mojo. Shots were clanking off the post or sailing over the bar. One would-be goal was waved off. A would-be penalty in the box by the Loons wasn’t called. A dreary three-day stretch in Seattle sports was headed to another disconsolate ending.

Even Brian Schmetzer, the coach whose impending contract extension has become an absolute necessity, acknowledged afterward, “I mean, Minnesota had the game in their hands. Fifteen minutes to go.”

And then, lunacy happened. In a surge of scoring that will be remembered for as long as they play soccer in Seattle, the Sounders pounded out three goals in the span of 18 minutes, including the game-winner in stoppage time by Gustav Svensson, of all people. Schmetzer said, almost wistfully, that he wished he could have been in the stands with his buddies, watching it unfold with a beer in his hands.

You could just imagine the seismic activity that the nonexistent crowd would have summoned had Lumen Field been full. Instead, the Sounders created their own mayhem, commensurate with one of the signature moments in franchise lore. And this franchise keeps writing new, ever-more-preposterous, chapters.

“In our Sounders history, this is going to go down as one of the best games ever,” said Schmetzer.

The next thing anyone knew, the 3-2 victory was official, and the Sounders bench was storming onto the field, hugging anyone in Rave Green. Players hooked arms and danced what can only be called a festive version of Ring Around the Rosie. They posed with the Western Conference championship trophy as confetti was shot out of a cannon. Then the team reconvened in front of the south goal for another raucous photo session before retreating to the locker room, and a private celebration whose intensity one can only imagine. Rumor has it that champagne was involved.

Schmetzer Time, indeed. The coach and his team out-did themselves in reaching the Cup finals for the fourth time in five years. They will be seeking their third championship in that span, and a second straight. But with all due respect for those achievements, this match deserves its own special shrine.

“Those guys are winners,” Schmetzer said. “They’re champions. And not just the players — the coaching staff, the fitness staff, the medical staff that kept us safe. We’ve done a great job as an organization to put ourself in these positions, to give us a chance to get to the MLS Cup, and win a game like that.

“As a soccer fan, I’m going to look back in 10 years and think, what an unbelievable performance. I don’t know how we did it. I don’t.”

Sometimes it’s best not to probe too deeply, but rather just let the accomplishment speak for itself. Savor the moment and not the mechanics behind it.

Cumulatively, it’s enough to broach the D-word, as in dynasty. But all that was on Seattle’s mind as the game slipped away was survival. Down 2-0, the Loons smelling the upset, Seattle needed something, anything, positive to happen. Will Bruin, fresh off the bench, gave it to them with a goal in the 75th minute.

“Coming in with 20 minutes left, I figured I might as well make an impact, create a spark,” Bruin said. “You could feel the momentum tilting. We knew if we got one, we were going to get two.”

Do I hear three? Yet it looked like time would truly run out before the miracle could happen. Then in the 89th minute, absolute crunch time, Raul Ruidiaz poured one home off a corner kick. Tie game. The Sounders bench went into full crazed mode.

Stoppage time commenced, with the momentum having swung squarely to Seattle’s side. And Svensson, another sub, one who had not played since before the international break — a gap which he acknowledged afterward was because of a positive COVID test — headed home the game-winner as the game reached the third of those extra minutes, with less than two left to play.

The Sounders took the game about as far as is possible, which was the only fitting way for this game to end.

“Honestly, I don’t know if the guys want to play extra time,” said Bruin. “We wanted to win it in regulation.”

One had to wonder what Osvaldo Alonso, party to so many such celebrations during a stellar 10-year stretch with Seattle, was thinking as he trudged off the field with his Minnesota teammates. The Loons had brought the Sounders to the brink — with Alonso’s gritty play a large contributing factor — but were ultimately helpless against Seattle’s late barrage. Gustav said he couldn’t help but feel for Minnesota, from a competitor’s perspective, with a knowledge of the deep pain on the other side.

One didn’t have to wonder how Schmetzer felt. He was overflowing with a well of emotions that certainly began with pride, leavened by a good share of wonderment at what he had just witnessed.

“You’ve heard me say it before,” Schmetzer said. “I don’t know how to say it differently: This locker room is full of championship players, guys who understand it’s easy to be successful when you’re ahead ….but when adversity hits you, when you’re socked in the jaw like we were by Ozzie and (Minnesota coach) Adrian Heath and Minnesota, who put on a great performance, you get back up and persevere.

“I couldn’t be prouder ….We use words like ‘mentality’; it’s a catch phrase. Or ‘culture.’ I’m telling you, in that locker room, it’s real.”

It’s not just Schmetzer Time. It’s Sounders Time.

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