SEATTLE (AP) The Seattle Sounders didn’t want to leave their seventh straight MLS playoff appearance up to chance.
So they left it up to Clint Dempsey instead.
Dempsey scored two goals and assisted on another, all in the first 20 minutes of the game, as Seattle beat Real Salt Lake 3-1 to wrap up postseason position Sunday.
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The Sounders (15-13-6, 51 points) ended the regular season on an eight-game unbeaten streak (4-0-4). The win meant Seattle didn’t have to rely on help from any other team to make it.
With Sunday’s other results, the Sounders are the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. They will play host to No. 5 seed and defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles in a knockout game on Wednesday.
”It’s big for us to have the game at home and not having to travel with not many days to prepare,” said Dempsey, whose two goals gave him 10 for the season. ”It’s always good to play quality teams, and more importantly, it’s good to have home field advantage.”
Dempsey put the Sounders on the board in the fifth minute when he met a cross from Obafemi Martins at the top right corner of the 6-yard box and sent it into the net while falling to the turf.
Marco Pappa scored in the 10th minute off of a cross from Dempsey. In the 20th minute, Dempsey made it 3-0 when he buried the rebound of a hard shot by Martins.
”It’s a game we needed to win. We needed to go out and try to attack and take the game to them,” Dempsey said. ”We had to create our chances and not sit there wondering what was going to happen in the 70th minute or 80th minute trying to get a goal.
”We went out with the right mentality, and it was good for us to get the early lead and give us confidence,” he added.
Coach Sigi Schmid subbed Dempsey out in the 65th minute, wanting to preserve him in the hope of getting more such performances in the playoffs.
”We’re going to play midweek, and we wanted to make sure he could come back,” Schmid said. ”This is when you expect your players to show up, and Clint showed that he’s a player who can play for big moments.”
Luis Gill scored in the 77th minute for Salt Lake (11-15-8, 41 points), which missed the playoffs after seven straight appearances. RSL actually took the game to the Sounders in the second half, but Schmid said that was not a cause for concern.
”After we were up 3-0, it became a little more of managing the game,” he said. ”What I was very pleased with was how we came out and played the first 25 minutes of the game.”
Salt Lake coach Jeff Cassar was expecting as much from the Sounders.
”We knew they were going to come out strong,” he said. ”The energy for this game – we stressed it, we went over it, but we didn’t execute. We paid the price.”
The Sounders went winless in three tries against Los Angeles this season (0-2-1). They were knocked out last year’s playoffs by the Galaxy in the conference semifinals.
Sunday’s game was played in front of 55,435 fans at CenturyLink Field as the Sounders broke their own MLS single-season attendance record. Seattle drew 752,192 fans for 17 games, an average of 44,245.