Unlike some of his higher profile, high-scoring teammates, Shane O’Neill doesn’t have trouble recalling some of the more memorable goals of his career.
Make that, goal. As in his one previous MLS goal before Tuesday night.
“I mean, I have very few goals so I definitely remember it,” O’Neill said.
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O’Neill has another goal to add to his memories, scoring on an open header early in the second half to lift the Seattle Sounders to a 1-0 win over FC Dallas on Tuesday night in the semifinals of the MLS Western Conference playoffs.
Seattle advanced to the Western Conference final for the fourth time in the last five seasons, and ended the season for Dallas for the second straight year. The Sounders will face either Minnesota United or Sporting Kansas City in the West final next Monday. Seattle will host if it faces Minnesota, and will travel if Kansas City advances.
The Sounders have won in each of their past three trips to the conference finals.
“That might not have been our best performance as a team, but that team gutted it out,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said. “That group of players finds different ways to win and that’s what makes them champions. That’s what gives them a realistic shot at winning trophies, is because you can’t always win the right way, the prettiest way, the best way. You have to gut out some victories.”
O’Neill was among the most unlikely of goal scorers for the Sounders. The burly defender had just one previous MLS goal, coming in the 2014 season while playing for Colorado. His only other goal outside of MLS came in the 2016-17 season while playing in the Netherlands.
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But O’Neill found himself unmarked in front of the Dallas goal in the 49th minute and flicked Nicolas Lodeiro’s corner kick past Dallas goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer. It was the first Seattle goal by someone other than Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris in the past five matches.
“I feel like I’ve had a couple chances this year and I just didn’t fully commit to it, or didn’t keep my eyes open or whatever,” O’Neill said. “I feel like tonight I just kind of backed myself, and followed through and executed the play.”
Dallas advanced to face Seattle after upsetting Portland in the opening round of the playoffs, getting a stoppage time equalizer from Ricardo Pepi and outlasting the Timbers in eight rounds of penalty kicks.
But Dallas was offensively challenged this season, scoring fewer goals than any Western Conference playoff team during the regular season and needed to make this matchup against Seattle choppy and slow.
“They were brave today,” FC Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez said. “They moved the ball, they pressed, they sacrificed for each other, but it didn’t bounce our way.”
For most of the night, Dallas succeeded at its plan as O’Neill’s goal was one of two shots on target for Seattle. Dallas nearly pulled even in the 63rd minute, but Michael Barrios’ shot ricocheted off the far post and out, and Ricaurte Velez’s rebound attempt into an open net was cleared by Seattle defender Yeimar Gómez.
Dallas has seen its season ended in the playoffs by either Seattle or Portland in each of its past six trips to the postseason.
“This feeling is different. This one hurts more,” Gonzalez said.