Fans of Major League Soccer spent a lot of time complaining on Tuesday night. They complained about boring soccer, and about 15 days without any playoff soccer at all. They complained about despicable owners and incompetent gameday operations. The complained about first legs and the two-leg format that empowers their caginess.
But in the nightcap, the MLS Playoffs came alive. In the latter of two conference final first legs, the Seattle Sounders decided they didn’t need a second. Or at least they probably won’t. They’re going back home with a 2-0 victory in the bag, 90 minutes away from a return MLS Cup.
The Sounders went to Houston, buried a set piece while many viewers were still tuned in to Columbus-Toronto, then effectively won the tie when Nicolas Lodeiro split the Dynamo defense with a through-ball and Jalil Anibaba panicked.
Anibaba raced back, and reached back to drag down Joevin Jones. The referee correctly pointed to the spot, and reached for his back pocket. Anibaba was off, Houston was down a man and a goal, and was on the verge of going down two.
Penalty to seattle and a red card to Anibaba pic.twitter.com/Hv2svESdpl
— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) November 22, 2017
Joe Willis wasn’t a fan of that narrative, and temporarily kept the Sounders at bay. He dove to his left – reportedly with some helpful instructions from the Dynamo bench – to deny Lodeiro from the spot.
— Houston Dynamo (@HoustonDynamo) November 22, 2017
Roman Torres flubbed his header on the ensuing corner. Moments later, the Dynamo again survived a penalty-box scramble. Two Sounders players couldn’t sort themselves out in the center of the area, and when the ball finally found its way to Jones, free on the left corner of the six-yard box, the Sounders winger miscued his effort wide.
But Houston could only hold out for so long. Jones teed up Will Bruin for a soaring header against his former club:
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) November 22, 2017
The Dynamo momentarily lost their bearings. They foolishly flew into a few late tackles, and provoked scuffles right before halftime. After the break, waves of paper airplanes began to fly from the crowd.
The home side conjured a few chances – a few misses it’ll rue. Most notably, in the 51st minute, Mauro Manotas drove through the heart of the Sounders defense, but sent his toe-poke high and wide. The Dynamo never really tested reserve Seattle goalkeeper Tyler Miller, who was deputizing for the injured Stefan Frei.
The Sounders had their opportunities to really put the series to bed as well. Even as their legs went, sights at goal regularly appeared. Victor Rodriguez rattled the Houston crossbar in the third minute of second-half added time, and two Sounders players flailed at the rebound.
Because Seattle didn’t capitalize, a few hints of doubt remain heading back to the Pacific Northwest. The Dynamo might even be pleased with the scoreless second half. Sounders center back Roman Torres picked up a late yellow card, and will be suspended for the second leg. A 3-1 victory for Houston back at CenturyLink Field would send it to MLS Cup – unlikely, but not unthinkable. As manager Wilmer Cabrera said after the match: “Anything can happen.”
But Seattle, the defending champs, will feel great heading back home. And it’ll know it’s a few short steps away from a potential MLS Cup rematch with Toronto.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.