A refreshing feeling overtook the night air Saturday in Missouri.
St. Louis City SC barreled through their inaugural season to clinch the top playoff seed in the Western Conference weeks before MLS’ billed “Decision Day,” when most jockeying for postseason berths and positioning is settled. But few outside of expansion cities want it to be that easy for any newcomer.
Enter the Sounders.
Despite a turbulent season, the Sounders again provided a lesson for St. Louis: You can’t simply waltz over one of the league’s modern-day powerhouses.
Seattle sliced through St. Louis’ defense for a pair of goals while veteran keeper Stefan Frei was impenetrable for a 2-0 win at CityPark.
The Sounders (14-9-11) are the only team to defeat City twice this season, winning 3-0 in April at Lumen Field. St. Louis (17-12-5) has scored three or more goals at home nine times this season but was shut out in its finale – just the third time it couldn’t score at CityPark.
With the win and Los Angeles FC draw with Vancouver, the Sounders secured the second seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket. Seattle will play a best-of-three opening-round series against seventh-seeded FC Dallas.
Frei set the tone in the fifth minute of the match with a save off a shot from a St. Louis free kick.
His teammates were active in their attack, midfielder Cristian Roldan setting up the opening goal with a low cross to Albert Rusnak for a left-footed shot in the 23rd minute.
After two more saves from Frei in the 29th and 34th minutes, the Sounders carved up another scoring play. Reed Baker-Whiting played a give-and-go with Leo Chu on the left wing that Baker-Whiting capped with a shot near the end line that angled itself in at the far post. The attempt was ruled an own goal by St. Louis defender Tim Parker, whose sliding tackle apparently deflected the ball into the net in the 38th minute.
Frei finished with five saves for his 14th clean sheet of the season. The stat leads MLS and broke his single-season record of 13 set in 2017.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer started one of his strongest lineups with everyone healthy on the roster. Nouhou, who recently returned from international duty, and Nico Lodeiro were the only mainstay starters who were available as substitutes.
Baker-Whiting started at left back in place of Nouhou while Rusnak started over Lodeiro. Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz recently returned from injury and was also on the bench, teammate Jordan Morris getting the nod to play up top.
Nouhou subbed on in the 59th minute for Baker-Whiting. The latter was teary-eyed and red-faced when he left the field. He appeared to suffer an injury and was evaluated on the field but able to walk unassisted to the Sounders bench.