SEATTLE (AP) — On their way to a title last year, all the benchmark celebrations for the Seattle Sounders came away from home.
Finally with the chance to clinch in front of their fans, the Sounders weren’t about to collapse. They were dominant on the way to another MLS Cup final.
Victor Rodriguez scored on a nifty give-and-go with Will Bruin in the 22nd minute, Clint Dempsey added his third goal of the playoffs early in the second half, and the Sounders advanced to the final with a 3-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on Thursday night.
The defending champions rolled through the Dynamo 5-0 on aggregate after their convincing two-goal win in Houston last week. Bruin added his second goal of the series in the 73rd minute as the Sounders advanced to face Toronto with the opportunity to become the first repeat MLS Cup champions since the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011-12 — and on the same field Seattle won its first title a year ago. The Sounders and Toronto played to a 0-0 draw in the 2016 final before Seattle won on penalty kicks.
“It’s great to celebrate in front of them,” Dempsey said. “We still have our work cut out for us. We still have a big challenge in playing against Toronto away from home, but you have everything to play for and at the beginning of the season we wanted to repeat and we’re in a position now to where possibly that can be done.”
One after another, Sounders players and coach Brian Schmetzer took the small stand in front of Seattle’s supporters and raised the Western Conference championship trophy. Last year, Seattle clinched the West title in Colorado.
“The relationship between the fans and the players is what makes this club so special,” Schmetzer said
The Sounders took any nerves out of the second-leg with Houston early. Rather than packing in on defense, Seattle pushed forward and aggressively tried to get that third goal. It came on a four-pass series, with Bruin’s right-footed flick the key. It found Rodriguez unmarked on a diagonal run into the penalty area, and his right-footed shot beat Joe Willis to give Seattle the early advantage.
Rodriguez’s goal gave the 45,298 at CenturyLink Field a collective exhale as Houston would have needed to score three goals to advance. That number became four when Dempsey finished a deft cross from Joevin Jones in the 52nd minute, and if that didn’t put the match out of reach, Bruin added his goal late to complete the rout.
While Seattle’s goal scoring deserved recognition, its defense continued to be stellar. The Sounders have yet to allow a goal in the playoffs and haven’t been scored upon since a 2-0 loss at Philadelphia on Oct. 1. Seattle finished off the Dynamo without defender Roman Torres, who was out due to yellow card accumulation.
“We’re taking a tremendous amount of pride in playing well defensively as a unit,” Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said.
Houston played the final 24 minutes with 10-men after Tomas Martinez was sent off for shoving the head of Seattle’s Jordy Delem as he was lying on the field following a foul. It was the second red card in the two-game series for Houston. Jalil Anibaba was given a red card in the first leg and missed Thursday’s game. Houston was also without defender Philippe Senderos (hamstring) and forward Romell Quioto (illness).
“We did good things that no one was expecting from us, but we came up short in the Western Conference final against for me the best team in the West,” Houston coach Wilmer Cabrera said.
Seattle also got a boost with the return of forward Jordan Morris after being out for two months due to a hamstring injury. Morris played the final 15 minutes of the match and should be available for the final.