Gustav Svensson celebrates his goal, the first of the match. (Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports)
HOUSTON — Seattle Sounders FC took a giant step toward reaching MLS Cup for the second successive year Tuesday night.
The defending MLS Cup champions scored a 2-0 victory over 10-man Houston Dynamo, securing two valuable away goals in the process in the first leg of the Western Conference final series at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Translated: Seattle enters the second leg at CenturyLink Field Thursday, Nov. 30 with a commanding lead.
The visitors grabbed a two-goal halftime advantage and never looked back.
First, Gustav Svensson, who helped Sweden oust Italy from the 2018 World Cup, capped a memorable week by lifting Seattle into the lead, heading home a Nicolas Lodiero corner kick into the right side in the 11th minute.
Lodeiro, however, botched a golden opportunity to double the margin in the 29th minute after Houston defender Jalil Anibaba was shown the red card by referee Jalil Anibaba after taking down Trinidad & Tobago international Joevin Jones in the box and denying an obvious scoring opportunity. Anibaba will miss the second leg as will Alberth Elis, who was booked for dissent — his second yellow of the postseason — which will keep him out of the Seattle leg.
On the penalty, goalkeeper Joe Willis, however, was up to the task, denying the midfielder by diving to his right to make the save. In fact, Willis became only the third keeper in playoff history to make two penalty-kick saves.
Just prior to halftime, forward Will Bruin made life more difficult for his former Dynamo teammates when he headed home Jones’ left-wing cross into the left corner for a two-goal bulge in the 42nd minute.
With his team enjoying a two-goal lead, Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer was in the enviable position to rest veteran striker Clint Dempsey in the second half, bringing on Victor Rodriguez in his place.
Needing at least one goal to get back into the game and series, Houston applied pressure on the Seattle net early in the second half. The hosts had several close encounters, but could never put one away.
Seattle defender and Panamanian international Roman Torres was awarded a yellow card in the 88th minute, his second of the playoffs, which meant he will miss the second leg.
Three minutes into stoppage time, Rodriguez almost gave Seattle an insurmountable three-goal lead as he rammed a shot off the crossbar.