The championship sensibility was clear as Sounders buried a 2-0 deficit with a three-goal onslaught in the final 20 minutes to stun Minnesota and advance to the MLS Cup again.
The final seconds of the Seattle Sounders’ MLS Western Conference final against Minnesota United FC will be enshrined quickly in Seattle sports history. Monday night provided one of those rare moments where time freezes and reveals the incredible.
The Sounders triumphed 3-2 thanks to a 93rd-minute goal from Gustav Svensson — the first time in league history a club won a playoff game despite having trailed 88 minutes into the contest.
That Svensson scored the game-winner was especially poignant for the roller coaster of 2020. The midfielder revealed after the match that he had been the unnamed Sounders player who tested positive for COVID-19 Nov. 23. He was cleared to return to team activities several days before the match.
His goal was the third in the final 20 minutes for the Sounders, who looked for most of the contest ready to fall short in their quest to reach a fourth MLS Cup final in five years.
Down 2-0, the offense, which struggled against a defensive-minded FC Dallas in the semifinals, had stalled out.
Coach Brian Schmetzer turned to his bench, bringing on forward Will Bruin for midfielder João Paolo in the 73rd minute. The choice paid off two minutes later, when he slotted home a loose ball that trickled away from Raúl Ruidíaz inside the penalty area to make it 2-1.
Svensson subbed on for Joevin Jones in the 77th minute, taking up space in the midfield as Seattle pressed forward for an equalizer.
Still, Seattle’s streak of 14 consecutive MLS playoff wins seemed certain to end.
In the 89th minute, the Sounders won a corner. Nicolás Lodeiro swung the ball out from the left side, where it glanced off the head of a defender and fell to Ruidíaz at the back post. The Peruvian powered it home for his ninth playoff goal, a club record.
Seconds later, fourth official Joseph Dickerson held up the board: Three minutes of added time. Seattle pressed forward, not wanting to leave the outcome to the vicissitudes of extra time, or worse, kicks from the penalty mark.
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“Maybe I didn’t believe it, but the coaching staff: Tommy (Dutra), Gonzalo (Pineda), Djimi (Traore), Preki, they were all saying, ‘We’re going to get one more shot,’” said Schmetzer.
Ruidíaz rocketed a low-angle shot off the left post. Morris clobbered the ball off a defender from just outside the 18-yard box. With seconds left, the Sounders won another corner.
Lodeiro swung the ball in and Svensson rose to meet it. The big Swede tapped it with his head, fanning it to the far post and tucking home the game-winner.
Svensson was mobbed by teammates. Cristian Roldan sprinted the length of the field to celebrate with keeper Stefan Frei. More than one player collapsed to their knees, overcome with the gravity of the moment. When the final whistle sounded moments after the restart, Seattle’s bench stormed the field to start the party.
Even the lack of fans at Lumen Field, mandated by the nation’s battle with COVID-19, failed to stymie the joy of the astonishing conclusion.
Still, players and coaches acknowledged the moment would have been a special one to share with fans in person.
“God, I wish the fans were in the stadium,” Schmetzer said. “I wish I was in the Brougham End with (the Emerald City Supporters) and all my buddies, drinking beer and having a good time.
“That was unbelievable. I haven’t had a chance to soak it in. In our Sounders history, this is going to go down as one of the best games ever. Winning the final at home last year is obvious, but this one is right up there.”
As the Western Conference Champion T-shirts were pulled out, the Sounders sought one Minnesota player above the others: Osvaldo Alonso, who in his decade with the club, still holds Seattle’s MLS appearances record and helped the club hoist its first MLS Cup, a Supporters’ Shield and four U.S. Open Cups.
The defensive midfielder embraced former teammates, his chance to best his old club having slipped his grasp at the final moment. Roldan, who often credited the 35-year-old for helping him develop, hugged his former captain as the Sounders party raged near them.
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The Monday heroics will become even more legendary if the Sounders make good on their championship pursuit Saturday and bring home a second consecutive MLS Cup by beating the Columbus Crew at its home.
Schmetzer believes that his team has what it takes — who wouldn’t after Monday night?
“Those guys are winners,” Schmetzer said. “They are champions. That group of people in that locker room — not just the players, but the coaching staff, the fitness staff, the medical staff — have done a great job as an organization to put ourselves in these positions to have a chance to get to an MLS Cup for a second year in a row.”
The confidence to overcome any obstacle was summed up by Bruin, who ended his press conference succinctly before returning to the celebrations:
“One more,” he said.