It was so simple, in retrospect.
In the 31st minute of Sunday’s match between the Sounders and FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field, Seattle’s Clint Dempsey gathered a bouncing ball in the middle of his attacking half. Dallas defender Matt Hedges took an unwise step forward to cut Dempsey off, allowing Victor Rodriguez to sprint into the space he vacated toward goal. Dempsey’s pass hit Rodriguez in stride, and the Spanish winger curled a shot inside the right-hand post and the Sounders led 1-0.
It looked simple, but it was at odds with much of Seattle’s season, when they’ve lacked for consistent goal-scoring from time the season kicked off way back in March.
It looked simple, but Rodriguez’s goal was loaded with consequence — as were the pair of insurance tallies Will Bruin added in the second half and Lamar Neagle’s superfluous header in stoppage time. The 4-0 win locked up the Sounders’ ninth consecutive postseason berth and kept them alive for a potential first-round bye ahead of next Sunday’s finales.
Seattle (13-9-11) improved from fourth to third place in the West, even on points with second-place Portland but behind thanks to the Timbers’ greater number of wins. The top two finishers get byes directly into the conference semifinals, while seeds three and four host five and six on Oct. 25 and 26.
The Sounders host 10th-place Colorado Sunday at CenturyLink, while Portland welcomes table-topping Vancouver. Each will at least be assured playoff qualification, which was not the case heading into Sunday.
Dallas came in playing for its postseason life, and that desperation was evident early on. FCD had more than 60 percent of the possession in the opening 15 minutes. It never really turned that intent into clear-cut scoring chances, however, and the danger of such laxity was underlined in the 12th minute when Dempsey forced Jesse Gonzalez into a strong-handed save from close range.
Dempsey, who like Seattle’s five other internationals returned straight from national-team duty straight into the starting lineup, was on his game throughout. His pass set up Rodriguez’s opener, and his shot set up Bruin’s goal that made it 2-0 off the rebound in the 64th minute.
The third, added just three minutes later, was similarly straightforward. Rodriguez shimmied through a series of defenders in the Dallas penalty area, and though he was eventually knocked off the ball, it deflected right to Bruin’s feet with the goal mouth exposed. Neagle provided the final blow in stoppage time, leaping for a free header off a corner kick and splashing it into the back of the net.
Scoring has often been a chore for this team this season, but on Sunday evening, in front of a festive crowd of 48,478, the Sounders made it look simple.