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Seattle Sounders beat San Jose Earthquakes, secure first-round bye

Oct 28, 2018; Seattle, WA, USA; CenturyLink Field is seen in a general view taken prior to a game between the Seattle Sounders and the San Jose Earthquakes. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

SEATTLE — A goal from Raul Ruidiaz in the dying seconds of stoppage time saw the Seattle Sounders defeat the San Jose Earthquakes in front of a crowd of 42,617 Sunday at CenturyLink Field. With the win, and a Colorado Rapids victory over FC Dallas, Seattle secured a second-place finish in the Western Conference and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

In the 79th minute, with the Sounders trailing the Earthquakes (4-21-9), 1-0, and with the Rapids losing by a similar margin, a quick murmur went through the stadium that the Rapids had scored. Seconds later, the whispers turned to cheers when Ruidiaz chested in a Cristian Roldan cross from the right alley.

Four minutes later, the news was circulated to the bench, by way of assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda to team captain Osvaldo Alonso that Colorado’s Tommy Smith had made it 2-1.

The result meant that a draw would clinch a bye for the Sounders (18-11-5) thanks to LAFC’s loss to Sporting Kansas City, but Ruidiaz smashed in a goal in the third minute of stoppage time, capping off a pass from Nicolas Lodeiro to remove doubt from the equation.

In the aftermath of the goal, CenturyLink Field erupted as Ruidiaz sprinted up to the ad boards and celebrated with teammates after tearing off his shirt and flinging it away. Lodeiro collapsed to his knees and waved to the screaming crowd.

“It was crazy,” Alonso said. “I was screaming, jumping. After 90 minutes, to score it 2-1 and we have a bye? For me, it was great. I’m very happy for the team. Every week, we fight for each other. In the end, we won and finished second.”

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said trying to keep his team informed of the league-wide goings-on presented a unique challenge.

 “That was intense,” Schmetzer said. “We were aware of what was happening, but how do you get that information to the players? It was at one point, ‘Ozzie, let’s go forward.’ It was: ‘Ozzie, let’s stay back and not take a goal.’ There was so much going on and that’s one of the dramas. Whoever thought of this Decision Day, it’s great. It’s great for all the fans, it gives us a bit of a faster heartbeat, but that’s what we want to do. We want to entertain people and fans around this county. We knew, we tried to get the information there, but this team did not want to draw — they obviously didn’t want to draw the last game of the year in front of their home fans that they were trying to impress. They wanted to end this season on a positive note. For their mentality, for their ‘never-say-die’ mentality, that’s why this team is capable of a championship.”

The brace by Ruidiaz gave the Peruvian 10 goals in 13 starts. His arrival helped Seattle go 14-2-1 over its final 17 games, the best-ever record by an MLS club over a half-season that saw the Sounders rise from the depths of the Western Conference into its 10th consecutive trip to the playoffs.

Seattle will now wait to see who emerges from the Knockout Round as it rests up for a shot at a third consecutive trip to the MLS Cup final.

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