Sounders FC Win Match, Lose Conference Finals


The introduction of a new rule is always going to be accompanied by a fair share of controversy. “Away goals,” one could say, “are a bunch of unfair, cheating crap.” Not true, really, as the home team has an advantage that simply doesn’t apply to the visiting side. But one could certainly argue that the new MLS playoff system gives them too much weight. And after the events of this weekend, that’s exactly what thousands of Sounders FC fans will tell you.

Seattle faced off against their eternal rival, the Los Angeles Galaxy, in three critical late-season games with the Supporters’ Shield on the line. They won the Shield, capping their run with a wonderful last-minute win during the regular season’s penultimate game. As fate would have it, the two teams met again in the Western Conference Finals. Because it’s a two-team league, apparently.

Ties in the two-game aggregate are now broken first and foremost by away goals. The Sounders lost the first game – their away match – by a score of 1-0. A one-point deficit in the aggregate thus became some kind of an ultimatum – win by shutout, or else. Even a 2-1 win would send Sounders FC packing for the year. Well, lo and behold, that’s just what happened.

Brad Evans staked Seattle to an early lead with a goal in the 26th minute. This merely tied the series, but that didn’t last long. Clint Dempsey was the hero in the 32nd minute, who rifled a low ball into the net to give the home team a 2-0 lead and a 2-1 advantage for the right to play in the MLS Cup. With the lead in hand, the Sounders had one goal: don’t allow any goals, no matter what.

In the 54th minute, Galaxy midfielder Juninho blasted a long shot off the post and into the net to bring Los Angeles within one and tie the aggregate. But he did more than that – his goal tilted the tiebreaker in L.A.’s favor, since it came on the road.

The score held, and when the match ended a 2-1 Sounders victory, it meant Seattle’s season was over and L.A. was moving on. Each team scored two goals, but one of Los Angeles’s goals came on the road. And that’s how it goes now – whoever scores more goals on the road wins the tiebreaker. So Sounders FC will have to wait a year for another shot at the MLS Cup.

It’s frustrating, to be sure. The aggregate ended in a tie, except it didn’t end in a tie, really, since there was a tiebreaker in place. A year ago things would have gone differently following the conclusion of this match, but a year ago was a year ago. The Emerald City Supporters should have at least had a victory to celebrate. But alas, the victory was merely a sign of defeat.

Not to overshadow the amazing season that just wrapped up, of course. The Shield victory was the highlight of a campaign that was probably the best in franchise history, as Seattle won the regular season crown and the U.S. Open Cup. It was a heartbreaking loss to a pesky rival, but that’s just something that happens in sports. Kudos, Sounders FC, for an excellent 2014.