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Sounders clinch first round bye with 3-0 win over Rapids

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Nicolas Lodeiro scores two, after Clint Dempsey is shown an early red card.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE -- Decision Day didn’t exactly play out perfectly for the Seattle Sounders, but all things considered it wasn’t too bad.

Most importantly, they beat the Colorado Rapids 3-0 to secure a first-round by in the MLS Cup playoffs. They’ll next face either the Vancouver Whitecaps or the winner of the Houston Dynamo-Sporting KC match likely on Oct. 29 before hosting the return leg on Nov. 2.

An opening goal from Will Bruin and two more from Nicolas Lodeiro provided more than enough scoring for the Sounders.

Unfortunately, the win wasn’t cheap. Clint Dempsey was shown red card in the 24th minute when he was deemed to have elbowed Mike da Fonte and will be suspended for the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals. Up to that point, Dempsey was having a stellar match after having picked up one assist and nearly setting up another.

The Sounders also missed out on the Cascadia Cup as the Portland Timbers beat the Whitecaps.

Previous injuries to Jordan Morris and Osvaldo Alonso kept them out of contention for this match for Seattle, but fresh injuries to Gustav Svensson (last week against FC Dallas) and Victor Rodriguez depleted the Sounders squad even more. Harry Shipp made his first start since mid-July, and Nouhou slotted in at left back to push Joevin Jones to a left mid/wing role.

The match started off with a bang as the Sounders swarmed the away side from the first minute, and their efforts paid off in the 9th minute when Bruin tapped in a squared pass from Kelvin Leerdam in the middle of the box. Dempsey started the sequence with a beautiful switch to Leerdam. Bruin nearly had another when he was through on goal and one-on-one with Tim Howard off another pass from Dempsey, but his shot hit the post and bounced back out.

Things took a very unfortunate turn for the Sounders in the 24th minute when referee Christopher Penso consulted VAR and concluded that Dempsey had elbowed da Fonte in the face during a shot by Roldan. Dempsey was sent off after Penso saw the replay.

Despite going down a man, the Sounders continued to create chances at the other end. Bruin looked like he had earned a penalty when he was unable to get on the end of cross due to being pulled to the turf by the back of his jersey. The Rapids’ first good opportunity of the day came around the 40th minute when Stefan Aigner made an acrobatic semi-bicycle kick from the middle of the box that was close enough for Stefan Frei to quickly react to and catch.

Seattle came out of the second half well, and didn’t really look as if they were down a man. But Shipp was judged to have handled the ball in the penalty box in the 52nd minute, potentially turning the match dramatically. It certainly hit his arm, but it was far from intentional. Regardless, Dominique Badji’s penalty kick hit the post and bounced out. It turned into a corner for Colorado, but Frei was also equal to that and punched it away.

Not long after Colorado’s penalty, things flipped around and Penso awarded Seattle a penalty after Bruin was dragged down in the box. Tim Howard and the Rapids defense vehemently argued with the referee for a few minutes, who was told to consult the video by the VAR. Instead of changing the penalty ruling, Penso decided to give Colorado’s Axel Sjoberg a red card for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity. Lodeiro scored the penalty for Seattle, putting the Sounders up 2-0 in the 65th minute.

Lamar Neagle was Seattle’s first substitute not long after, coming on for Shipp to try and provide another outlet up front to stretch the game and keep Colorado out of Seattle’s half. It almost paid off when Neagle took a shot on goal after some great work by Leerdam, but Howard was equal to the shot and the follow-up deflected wide off Leerdam.

Colorado pushed hard for a goal and chance at a comeback, but Frei cleaned up their only opportunities near his box and held onto Seattle’s win and clean sheet. A late push from Roman Torres and substitute Henry Wingo almost earned the Sounders a third, but Joevin Jones’ shot rolled agonizingly wide. The home side roared right back, though, when Leerdam pushed up the right side and got the ball to Lodeiro near the top of the box. The Uruguayan twisted and juked his way through the box, sending the defenders and Tim Howard to the ground tackling air, but Lodeiro’s eventual shot hit the prone goalkeeper and deflected it wide.

Just as the clock ticked down in stoppage time, the Sounders took advantage of Colorado’s beleaguered and exhausted squad and twisted the knife even further. Lodeiro again danced into the final third as the ball fell to his feet after the defense headed it away. Lodeiro kept his cool as he ran into the box and slipped the ball past Howard and into the net for a 3-0 exclamation point on Seattle’s bye-clinching win.