SEATTLE — By his own admission, Cristian Roldan was trying to be a nuisance.
He wound up being the hero.
Roldan broke a tie in the 31st minute, and the Seattle Sounders wrapped up a Major League Soccer playoff berth with a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake on Sunday in the regular-season finale for both teams.
The Sounders (14-14-6, 48 points) made the playoffs for the eighth straight year. They have never missed the postseason since joining MLS in 2009. Seattle will go in as the West’s No. 4 seed, hosting Sporting Kansas City in a knockout-round game Thursday night.
Real Salt Lake (12-12-10, 46 points) also got in, thanks to Portland’s 4-1 loss at Vancouver that eliminated the defending champion Timbers. Salt Lake will be the West’s No. 6 seed and visit Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Nicolas Lodeiro helped set up Roldan’s goal when he floated a corner kick from the left wing side into the box. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando slapped away Roman Torres’ header, but the ball deflected off defender Luke Mulholland, who was standing just to Rimando’s right. It went straight to Roldan, who drilled it in from 2 yards in front for his fourth goal of the year.
“I was put in the box to be a pest, and shield guys away from our big guys, from Chad Marshall and Roman, and to pick for them,” Roldan said. “I was lucky enough to get away from my runners and kick the ball into the back of the net.”
Roldan, who played out of position on the right side of midfield for part of the day before moving back to his customary center midfield spot, has gotten considerably more playing time since Brian Schmetzer took over as interim head coach in late July.
“The kid has blossomed — he does everything,” Schmetzer said. “That wasn’t his normal position tonight, and he showed he can still make an impact in games.”
The Sounders have blossomed as a whole, going 8-2-4 under Schmetzer over the past 2½ months. Still, they needed a win Sunday, or a Portland loss — and got both — to secure a place in the postseason.
“The last two results we had (a 0-0 tie with Houston and a 2-1 loss at Dallas) weren’t wins, and we needed to get into the playoffs on our own, so we didn’t have to rely on anybody else,” Schmetzer said. “We wanted to make sure we get the nice little bump and the confidence and everything that comes along with a win like this against a tough team to beat.”
The teams traded goals in the first four minutes.
Alvaro Fernandez put the Sounders on the board in the third minute with his first goal of the season, scoring from a yard in front after Jordan Morris sent a nifty backheel pass across the 6-yard box.
Just 90 seconds later, Mulholland pulled Salt Lake even. Jordan Allen, under pressure inside the box from Sounders defender Joevin Jones, tapped the ball to his left. Mullholland raced up to it just to the left of the 6-yard box and sent a shallow shot across the goalmouth that slipped just inside the right post for his fourth of the year.
Real Salt Lake is winless in its past seven games (0-4-3), its last victory coming on Aug. 26 at home against Colorado. But coach Jeff Cassar insisted that as of now, that slump is in the past.
“It’s a new season. What I told the guys is we’re in the playoffs for our body of work that we’ve done throughout the year, not what we’ve done in the last four games,” Cassar said. “Now it’s all about rest and recovery and getting ready for L.A.”