Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Sounders leave it late, defeat Sporting Kansas City

After a hard-fought 88 minutes, the Seattle Sounders found the winning goal against Sporting Kansas City off of a Nelson Valdez header. The Sounders move on to take on FC Dallas while Sporting's season is over.

Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Sounders leave it late, defeat Sporting Kansas City
Nelson Valdez celebrates after scoring the game-winnings goal against Sporting Kansas City | Source: Brandon Farris - VAVEL USA
Seattle Sounders
1 0
Sporting Kansas City
Seattle Sounders: Frei; Mears, Torres, Marshall, Jones; Alonso, Friberg, Roldan, Lodeiro, Fernandez, Morris
Sporting Kansas City: Melia; Abdul-Salaam, Ellis, Besler, Sinovic; Feilhaber, Mustivar, Nagamura; Zusi, Dwyer, EEspinoza
SCORE: 1-0, min. 88, Valdez.
REFEREE: Ismail Elfath admonished Alonso (min. 32), Sinovic (min. 63), Feilhaber (min. 71), Espinoza (min 90+3).

The Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City squared off in the final knockout round of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. It was the third straight season that the Sounders have hosted a home game in the knockout round. This was the first meeting of the two teams in their long postseason history.

In the end, it was a Nelson Valdez goal in the 88th minute of the match that saw the Sounders advance to the Western Conference Semifinals for the third straight season. They will stay home to face FC Dallas for the third straight year.

Sporting starts on fire

The game opened with Sporting controlling much of the first 15 minutes of the match. If not for Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei making two keys saves and a shot off the post, the Sounders would have found themselves in an early hole.

As the first half wore on, the Sounders finally got their feet underneath them and began controlling the game the way they wanted. The Sounders had a few chances but were not able to get any shots on goal and never really tested Sporting ‘keeper Tim Melia at all in the first half.

By the end of the first half, Frei had collected four saves to keep the Sounders in the match. Melia, on the other hand, was merely a spectator as mentioned above.

Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei made a number of key saves to keep the Sounders in the match against Sporting Kansas City | Source: Seattle Sounders Twitter - @SoundersFC
Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei made a number of key saves to keep the Sounders in the match against Sporting Kansas City | Source: Seattle Sounders Twitter - @SoundersFC

Second half begins with both teams looking for all important goal

The second half began with both teams looking for that all important first goal. It appeared that Matt Besler got Sporting on the board in the 53rd minute but assistant referee Corey Parker judged Besler to be offside. The replays showed it to be close.

After an even first 20 minutes of the first half, things started to get a little out of control. Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, already sitting on a yellow card, came flying in on Benny Feilhaber. The Sporting bench and players wanted Alonso to receive his second yellow card of the night but after conferring with 4th official Ricardo Salazar, Ismail Elfath determined it to not be a foul.

After Feilhaber was taken to the sideline, he immediately was waved back on the field by Elfath. After a stoppage in play, Feilhaber was seen berating Elfath. Presumably for his lack of a second yellow on Alonso. Eventually, after things calmed down, Elfath issued him a yellow card for dissent.

Sounders subs make the difference

The Sounders made two late subs, first Valdez for Erik Friberg in the 79th minute and then lastly Brad Evans for Alvaro Fernandez in the 86th minute. The Sounders best chance of the night game in the 83rd minute. Nicolás Lodeiro sent in a left-footed cross that was flicked on to the back post that found an unmarked Román Torres. He was able to get his left foot on the shot but he was not able to redirect it on frame.

Just as it looked like the game would be heading to extra time, Valdez came up huge for the Sounders. After Sporting was not able to fully clear the ball, Joevin Jones found himself with the ball about 23 yards from goal. He drove to the far left of the penalty box and sent in a cross that found the head of Valdez. Replays showed that Valdez may have been in more of an offside position then Besler was when his goal was called off. Regardless, the assistant referee did not raise his flag and the goal stood.

After four minutes of stoppage time, the Sounders advance to face to FC Dallas for the third straight season in the Western Conference Finals. After the match, Feilhaber was shown on TV berating Elfath once again. It didn’t appear that he was issued a card of any color so he should be fine for next season unless the MLS Disciplinary Committee decides to retroactively issue a ban.

Benny Feilhaber berating the referee, Ismail Elfath, at the conclusion of the game | Source: Brandon Farris - VAVEL USA
Benny Feilhaber berating the referee, Ismail Elfath, at the conclusion of the game | Source: Brandon Farris - VAVEL USA

What’s next

The Sounders stay at home to take on Dallas with kickoff scheduled for 9:30 pm ET. Sporting Kansas City’s season is done and they will be left wondering what went wrong for the third straight season after being knocked out in the knockout rounds.