SEATTLE– Forgive Seattle Sounders fans if they thought they were watching a rerun: “Nicolas Lodeiro Delivers” is an episode that has been on repeat since midsummer in the Emerald City. The Uruguayan midfielder was at it again on Tuesday night, drawing a second-half penalty kick and converting the ensuing attempt to give the Sounders a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids in front of 42,774 at CenturyLink Field.
The victory puts the Sounders in control of the two-leg, aggregate-goal Western Conference finals. A road draw in the second leg by any score now advances the Sounders to the first MLS Cup in franchise history.
“I think the [ability] to go out and score two goals against the best defense in MLS shows good resolve,” said Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer. “I would say that every expectation that this club has — from the ownership group through the players through the staff — [is] to win every game when we step into the field.”
For their part, the Rapids earned an away goal that could prove all-important, but will surely regret walking away with a loss after taking an early 1-0 lead.
“I think we did what we wanted to do,” said Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni, “and that was to come here and find that goal, the road goal. The guys did a fantastic job in the first half of pushing the game at times and I think it was a great start.”
The second leg will be held on Sunday afternoon at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado.
With the match tied 1-1 in the 61st minute, Lodeiro stepped to the spot and drilled a penalty kick straight down the middle for the game-winning goal. Goalkeeper Zac MacMath, starting for an injured Tim Howard, guessed wrong and dove to his right. Referee Chris Penso awarded the Sounders the penalty kick after Rapids left back Marc Burch tackled Lodeiro in the penalty area as the designated player dribbled away from goal.
“Do you want to get me in trouble?” Mastroeni asked rhetorically when questioned about the call. “It’s a big game, and it’s unfortunate when the players don’t decide the result. It’s football, and it happens, and that’s not going to be the focus [moving forward].”
Sebastien Le Toux missed a golden opportunity to help his team equalize with just more than 10 minutes remaining. The former Sounder worked himself behind Seattle’s back line but only managed to send a shot directly to goalkeeper Stefan Frei. A basic pass across the top of the 6-yard box would have left late substitute Marlon Hairston with a simple tap-in equalizer.
Lodeiro has now scored four goals in the Sounders’ four 2016 playoff games.
“Yeah,” said Sounders rookie forward Jordan Morris, “he’s incredible.”
The Rapids opened the scoring in the 13th minute through Kevin Doyle. Midfielder Jermaine Jones sent a one-touch pass toward the left corner of the penalty area. Shkelzen Gashi looked set to collect the pass, but dummied center back Roman Torres, leaving Doyle alone to take two touches before sending a deflected shot past Frei for the 1-0 lead.
“It was an important goal not only for Doyle,” said Mastroeni, “but for our group, and a positive symbol moving to the second leg of the series.”
The Sounders, who have rallied time and again since late July, responded in just seven minutes. Cristian Roldan, growing in stature seemingly by the match in his sophomore campaign, gathered a clever pass from Lodeiro near midfield, thundered to the top of the 18-yard box, and lashed a ball that beat MacMath but slapped off the left post. Morris pounced on the deflection, easily besting the goalkeeper from short range.
“I’m always trying to follow up on rebound stuff,” said Morris, “and it landed at my feet and I was able to put it away. But credit to Cristian: he created it.”
The Sounders nearly took the lead twice near the half-hour mark, as the Rapids’ usually suffocating defense began to give Seattle breathing room. Erik Friberg first found Lodeiro 12 yards from goal, but MacMath snuffed out the Uruguayan’s header. Moments later MacMath denied Nelson Valdez from close range.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Osvaldo Alonso. Completed 30 of 30 passes in the first half, and 59 of 64 on the night. Defensively relentless throughout, allowing fellow midfielders Cristian Roldan and Erik Friberg the freedom to roam.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
The pair of Zac MacMath saves midway through the first half. The Sounders could have easily enjoyed a multiple-goal lead heading into the break, but MacMath’s work kept the Rapids very much in this series as it heads to Colorado.
MATCH TO FORGET
Sam Cronin. The Rapids captain, so vital to everything Colorado has done defensively this season, picked up a yellow card that will cause him to miss the second leg.