It’s hard to describe the feeling of clinching your first playoff berth.
Everything was new when Fredy Montero helped the Sounders secure their franchise-first in 2009. When the club advanced for a fourth-straight year in 2012, the feeling was of expectation that a berth was the minimum the Sounders could do.
And it was – just not for Montero.
Seattle’s all-time leading scorer tested his talents across the world after the 2012 MLS season. Among his stops were three seasons with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, where the club only advanced to the postseason once, the two-game 2017 run marking Montero’s last.
Montero is back in Rave Green and Saturday against his former team, the Colombian helped the Sounders qualify for another postseason berth behind a 4-1 win against Vancouver. The 13th consecutive playoff appearance continues Seattle’s MLS record run and is the longest active run in North American sports.
“I feel blessed to be here because nobody talks about making the playoffs, we are always thinking about defending that first seed – first place,” Montero said of the team’s mentality. “Seattle Sounders fans deserve a team that’s always looking to win. We showed no less than that this year. We’re close to finalizing that job. And hopefully in the games to come, we get more victories and (will) be in first place.”
The Sounders (17-5-6) are atop the MLS Western Conference. Cinching the No. 1 seed will not only give Seattle home-field advantage, the team will get a first-round bye.
Vancouver (9-9-10) entered the Cascadia Cup matchup one of the best defensive teams in MLS. The Whitecaps hadn’t conceded more than one goal in a MLS game since July and hadn’t allowed a goal in 332 minutes of play.
The Sounders wiped those stats out in the span of 14 minutes.
In a clinical corner kick sequence, Seattle defender Shane O’Neill worked a header into goal in the fifth minute. Joao Paulo and Kelyn Rowe batted the ball back-and-forth before Rowe sent a powerful cross into the box for O’Neill to knock home.
Sounders midfielder Nico Benezet added to Vancouver’s problems with his own score in the 14th minute. The summer-signee collected a pass from forward Will Bruin, using his first touch to get better positioning for a right-footed strike.
The goal was Benezet’s second of the season. Bruin has four assists.
Seattle’s crisp passing and offensive threats waned as the opening half progressed. Sounders keeper Stefan Frei was challenged twice before Whitecaps forward Brian White created a score off a rebound in first-half stoppage time.
The Sounders returned to form after the break. Bruin jump-started his own goal with a setup pass to Rowe on the wing. The latter sent a cross in for Montero, who held until Bruin made his run for a well-placed shot above Vancouver keeper Thomas Hasal’s reach.
Brazilian forward Leo Chu, who was signed along with Benezet in August, closed out the scoring with a strike in second-half stoppage time. It’s his second through all competitions this season.
Benezet and Rowe were a new-look right side because of international duties for multiple Sounders players. Benezet filled in for Cristian Roldan (U.S.) while Rowe slotted in for Alex Roldan (El Salvador). The duo worked well with Bruin to keep the Sounders formidable in the attack.
Vancouver was missing starters due to international duty, too. But the Whitecaps had White, who’s scored nine goals in the club’s past 10 matches.
But Seattle showed it’s truly the best defensive team in MLS. The Rave Green have only conceded 23 goals this season – fewest in the league. Frei finished with two saves.
The Sounders have a rare week without a match. The club travels to play the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.
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