Fervor overflowed in the 55th minute at Lumen Field.
Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia bear-hugged Sounders FC midfielder Cristian Roldan at the corner post, flipping Roldan to the ground WWE Smackdown style.
The aggression cranked up what was already a heated playoff-like match between the two leaders of MLS’s Western Conference. The majority of the 32,139 in attendance wanted Melia tossed for the body slam. He wasn’t, but the Sounders appeared to have the best revenge in scoring minutes later.
But in true late-season wildness, SKC captain Johnny Russell cut through the ear-piercing noise and Seattle’s defense for the game-winner in the 79th minute Saturday. Sporting snatched a 2-1 win from the Sounders, the result clinching the visitors’ playoff berth and moving them within three points of Seattle’s conference lead.
“It motivated the team, I felt,” Roldan said of the Melia takedown. “At the end of the day, we were unlucky in front of goal. We have to be cleaner in front of goal. Myself, I rushed so many things. And then defensively, you have to defend the goal.
“We had them to zero chances in the second half and we let one play slip and they scored. That’s the frustrating part. But my body is all right, no problems at all.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer made two offensive substitutions in the 82nd minute, bringing forward Fredy Montero and midfielder Leo Chu on for defenders Shane O’Neill and Xavier Arreaga.
Montero and Chu helped create some drives at goal late. Roldan had the best look in second-half stoppage time, but it pinged off the crossbar.
“The second half was unreal, we created so many chances,” Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe said of his team outshooting SKC 12-1 after the break.
“Saying that, they (SKC) still created a goal,” Rowe continued. “We have to make sure that we cut that out whether it be winning the ball up higher when we have them pinned or making sure we’re recovering in back. … Lucky for us, it’s not the playoffs. So, we need to make sure that these mistakes are not going to happen again come playoffs.”
SKC (16-7-7) has a game in hand in the race for the West’s No. 1 seed. Seattle (17-7-7) hasn’t defeated Kansas City at Lumen Field since September 2018. The sides didn’t play each other in 2020 due to MLS-imposed travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ismail Elfath, who was voted MLS Referee of the Year last season, only showed Melia a yellow card in the 56th minute. There were eight yellow cards shown overall. Sounders midfielder Joao Paulo’s yellow in the 35th minute means he will have to serve a one-game suspension for the game at Los Angeles FC on Tuesday for accumulation.
Roldan showed restraint after being slammed to the turf, but the internet rallied to his defense. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson quote tweeted a clip of the play, saying the move is called “delivering a devastating ‘Rock Bottom'” and assumed Roldan fought back and Melia was shown a red card.
In a response to a pool reporter, PRO Referees said a yellow card was the appropriate punishment because “the observable conduct by (Melia) did not rise to violent conduct due to the lack of brutality.”
“Normally players can’t throw another player of the opposition team down, they can’t do that,” Schmetzer said. “But that’s one singular play. That’s not the reason why everybody in that locker room is down. … (SKC) is going to say those were well-constructed goals. What I’m telling you is that we need to be better in those moments. You ain’t gonna win championships if you give goals away. You have to make it difficult on your opponent to score.”
Sporting KC pressured the Sounders early and it resulted in a goal in the fourth minute. Russell had the initial look off a give-and-go play on the left side of the box.
Sounders keeper Stefan Frei was able to swipe the cross off target and right wingback Alex Roldan was able to muddle the rebound shot. But brother Cristian was unable to win the ball from Sporting midfielder Luis Martins, the latter getting a tap to Remi Walter for a beamer shot outside the box.
Seattle didn’t start its strongest runs toward goal until the 14th minute when midfielder Nico Benezet had a shot center of goal that was saved by Melia.
Sporting dominated the half even with Melia using veteran savvy to waste time. The visitors had 55.2% possession of the ball and outshot Seattle 7-3 in the opening half.
Benezet found his score off a header in the 58th minute. Cristian Roldan and Joao Paulo had the assist.
“You shouldn’t have to be scored against to start any motivation,” Cristian Roldan said. “We shouldn’t have let the match slip like that.”
Sporting was well rested for Saturday’s match. The club lost to the Vancouver Whitecaps FC in their last outing on Sunday. Seattle played a midweek match Wednesday and finished in a draw at Colorado.
SKC now has a 7-0-0 record in matches after a loss.
Sporting played without forward Daniel Salloi due to an ankle injury. He helped the club collect a win in Seattle in July. But it’s Russell who’s a growing nemesis for the Sounders. The Scotsman has scored six goals in his five matches against Seattle.
Russell’s score on Saturday was his seventh straight this season.
“I’ve got a pretty good record against Seattle,” Russell said. “I always seem to pop up with a goal against them. In games like that when it’s top of the table, games are decided in those moments. I’m just happy that it could have been me and I’ve put it away to help the team win.”
The Sounders continue to play without striker Raul Ruidiaz, who has 16 MLS goals this season. The Peruvian returned from his native country Saturday evening but is dealing with a left hamstring injury.
“It’s sucks but I don’t think it’s a setback,” Rowe said of the loss. “We’re still three points (ahead) in first place. It’s going to make it a little harder for us and it does hurt. We could’ve had an easier run into that first-place spot for the playoffs, but we made a mistake and it cost us and we can’t make any more.”