Seattle Sounders FC defeated Sporting Kansas City 1-0 Thursday night in the knockout round of the MLS playoffs. The Sounders advanced to face FC Dallas, the top seed from the Western Conference, in the conference semifinals. That home-and-home tie begins Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Here’s three takeaways from Wednesday’s game:
1) Stefan Frei is in fine form.
The Sounders know they have a good goalkeeper in Stefan Frei, but he was particularly on his game Thursday, and his efforts kept Seattle in the game.
One would have to say Kansas City had the better of the play for the majority of Thursday’s contest, but Frei made sure it stayed scoreless. He made two diving saves on drives by Paolo Nagamura in the first 10 minutes, diving to his right on the first one and to his left on the second. He changed directions to palm away a deflection by Kevin Ellis late in the first half. Then late in the second half, with it still scoreless, Frei thrust out his left leg to stop Benny Feilhaber after Feilhaber dribbled through the defense.
It was an imperious performance by Frei, and the Sounders are indebted to him for advancing.
2) Nelson Valdez’s goal-drought misery is over.
It was nearly a year to the day since Valdez last scored a goal for the Sounders. The Paraguayan international forward and designated player has come in for much criticism for his inability to find the net. He was scoreless in 16 appearances during the regular season, and the last time he scored for Seattle was last Oct. 28 in the Sounders’ 3-2 victory over the L.A. Galaxy, also in the knockout round of the playoffs.
But Valdez ended his drought just when Seattle needed it most. In the 88th minute the Sounders worked the ball to the left, where Joevin Jones was advancing from his left-back position. Jones put on a burst of speed, then clipped a cross into the box, where a leaping Valdez met the ball with a bullet header past Kansas City goalkeeper Time Melia to send the stadium into a frenzy.
Valdez may have been an unlikely hero, but he was a vital one for the Sounders.
3) Peter Vermes is seeing red.
When a coach begins his press conference by saying, “I hope you don’t omit anything that I say here today,” you know you’re in store for some fireworks. Kansas City’s coach then proceeded to go on a rant about the officiating, which he believes decided the outcome of the game. He thought Valdez was offsides for his goal, that Sporting’s Matt Besler was onside when he had a goal ruled out for offsides early in the second half, and that Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso should have been shown a second yellow card midway through the second half.
Here’s the text of his opening:
“I first congratulate Seattle for moving on. Unfortunately, the game was one in which we score and our guy was onsides, they score and their guy is offsides. Unfortunately, Alonso for them should have been thrown out of the game, which would have changed the game. So there were three plays within the game that completely changed the match. Where I’d start is two-and-a-half weeks ago we played in Salt Lake and the same referee [Ismail Elfath] did that game as well, and in the 86th minute we had a penalty kick, 100 percent a penalty kick, not my assessment, even though it is, it’s the assessment of the head of PRO [Professional Referee Organization] Peter Walton as well, 100 percent a penalty kick, he doesn’t call it. If we score that goal, we go on to win that game, we get three points, we’re not sitting here today, we’re sitting in Kansas City playing that game. So it’s coincidental to me that the referee tonight makes another … I can’t even understand how you don’t give Alonso the second yellow card which puts him out of the game, puts them a man down, and we’re in a position to control the game even more so than we did. I am a guy who tries to do my best when it comes to evaluating a match. The statistics don’t lie in this game, we dominated the game from beginning to end. Like I said, they scored their goal on an offisdes play, the referee misses it, changes the outcome of the game. I will tell you in my opinion, and for our organization, I think PRO and Major League Soccer owe our club an absolute apology because this game was taken away from us today.”
Not a happy man.