For 90 minutes, Sporting Kansas City were the better side. Despite the loss of Omar Bravo and playing down a man for the better part of the second half, it looked for all the world like SKC would emerge with a well-earned victory. And then, Mauro Rosales happened. The man who is almost unquestionably the best first-year player in MLS (that the Sounders signed for almost nothing, it should be said) latched on to a loose ball and fired past a helpless Jimmy Nielsen into the bottom corner. Still, Sporting KC would be content with a draw, seeing as how the they'd had some poor luck (and been turned away several times by excellent Kasey Keller saves) and any time you can take a point while playing a significant portion of the game down a man is at least a small victory. And then Lamar Neagle happened. Rosales slid a loose ball to Mike Fucito at the edge of the area who held off a defender and found Neagle in a sliver of space. Neagle one-timed the ball off a diving Nielsen's fingers and into the far corner.
There were plenty of reasons to think that the Sounders wouldn't emerge from Kansas City with all three points, or any at all. And for the majority of the evening, the Sounders didn't play a game that deserved them. This was a team that was clearly exhausted, and they were quite frankly beyond lucky to slip into the half down just one goal. Things didn't improve a great deal as the second half got underway; Kansas City was still very much in control, and Seattle looked like they were running out of ideas. And then Omar Bravo happened. Bravo dove into Pat Noonan with a horribly dangerous, two-footed, studs-up challenge on the 59th and was rightfully shown red almost immediately. And then Bravo felt the need to get right up in Noonan's face, wagging his finger in accusation. And when Noonan took umbrage to his complaints, Bravo felt the need to fall over dramatically and pretend that he'd been headbutted, despite Noonan making no contact.
It was a shameful display from Bravo, one that will likely earn further discipline from the league, and it turned out to be just the spark the Sounders needed. From that point on Seattle took control, but with Kansas City playing nine men behind the ball (with the ever-threatening Teal Bunbury loitering just in front of the back line) the Sounders were unable to break through. Sporting KC were fantastic in protecting their lead, shutting down threatening Seattle attacks time and again and managing long spells of possession in an attempt to grind out the clock. And when in the 69th minute Seattle finally did manage to find a crack in Kansas City's resolute defense, Jimmy Nielsen stopped a well-taken shot from Mike Fucito with a diving parry. The ball fell to an onrushing Lamar Neagle, alone in acres of space, and Nielsen made what has to be considered a favorite for MLS save of the year, somehow managing to kick the ball into touch. At that point, it felt as though any chance the Sounders might have had to salvage a point had slipped away. If the opposing keeper can make saves of that quality, maybe it's just not your night?
But crazy things happen in this game. Sometimes a Mexican team signs two high-quality playmaking midfielders at once and realizes after it's too late that there's only money for one, forcing them to make up a story about a flunked medical exam. And sometimes those players, who are somehow capable of playing 390 minutes in the space of two weeks despite fitness concerns severe enough to void a contract, fall into your lap. Mauro Rosales saved this game, and it wasn't the first time he's done so. And the Sounders managed to pull out an unlikely result. Again. The LA Galaxy won this evening, and at the moment their lead in the Supporters Shield race stand at seven points. That's a tough mountain to climb with just ten games left to play. But the Sounders can't worry about other teams; they can only hope to take care of their own business. And tonight they did just that, albeit in heart-stopping circumstances, just as they've done time and again over the past two months. This team might not be perfect, but it's getting harder and harder not to love them.