In the first seven seasons Seattle Sounders FC played in Major League Soccer (MLS), the club reached the postseason every year.
For much of the eighth year, it seemed the Sounders run would end at seven. However, after parting ways with Sigi Schmid, the only Head Coach the club had even known, a remarkable run began.
Seattle gained more points in the last 14 matches of the year (28) than the first 20 matches (20), finding their way from ninth place in the Western Conference to fourth.
Last Sunday's win over Real Salt Lake left the club in line to host a knockout round playoff match against Sporting Kansas City.
Despite Kansas City beating Seattle both times the clubs met in the regular season, Wednesday night's chapter held a different outcome.
The physical match, which included 30 total fouls, stood scoreless until the 88th minute when Nelson Valdez sent Sounders supporters at CenturyLink Field into a frenzy.
The man who's been a punchline all year finally comes up big and gives Seattle a late playoff lead! Valdez! 1-0 Seattle! pic.twitter.com/nkVWCrKRdM— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 28, 2016
"I cannot explain [the emotions after scoring the goal.] All the pressure. I’ve been feeling like a big mountain on top of me all season. Finally with the goal the mountain has gone away and that pressure has been relieved,” Valdez said through an interpreter.
I would like to thank first my family my teammates and all the supporters for still believing in me!! BIG THANKS 🙏 pic.twitter.com/qF701S1X77— Nelson Haedo Valdez (@Haedo18Valdez9) October 28, 2016
Valdez failed to score in more than 900 minutes across 24 matches for the Sounders this season before Wednesday's game winning goal.
"I can’t think of a better person to be rewarded for this moment [than Nelson Valdez] because he has worked so hard all year long," Interim Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said.
The goal marks his third as a member of the club and first in almost exactly a year, Oct. 28, 2015 in a playoff match against Los Angeles.
Schmetzer noted the criticism over Valdez, who makes a considerable amount of money, for his lack of scoring in 2016, but stood by the veteran forward for carrying "the team on his back" Wednesday.
Elsewhere on the pitch, goal-keeper Stefan Frei lit up the statistic sheet with seven saves, playing a vital role in keeping Kansas City scoreless.
"You have to be ready," Frei said. "That’s why you warm up so you can make the saves and help us get the shutout and the guys in from of me did a tremendous job.”
The only ball to get past Frei all night came from Matt Besler, however, referee Ismail Elfath reversed the goal by calling him offside. The call became extremely controversial afterwards due to both Valdez and Besler's similar placement on respective plays.
Besler's goal was waved off. Valdez's goal was allowed. And Sporting KC is going home pic.twitter.com/NXxpGpmbMe— Seth Vertelney (@svertelney) October 28, 2016
"I think that PRO and Major League Soccer owe our club an absolute apology because this game was taken away from us today," Kansas City Head Coach Peter Vermes said.
Despite arguments, the result stands and the Sounders are now moving on in the MLS Playoffs.
Seattle will prepare for a home-and-home playoff series with FC Dallas, winners of the Supporters' Shield for most points in the MLS regular season. The first match will take place Sunday at CenturyLink with a kickoff time of 7:30 p.m.
"Home games are everything in this series, so hopefully we can have a good defensive performance, get a shutout and bag a couple goals," Frei said.
The top seeded team in the West, however, has been without arguably their best player, midfielder Fabian Castillo, since transferring the star to Turkish club Trabzonspor in early August.
When asked if Valdez's goal will stand out from the Sounders' turnaround season, Schmetzer simply replied, "I can't answer that because we're not done yet."
Sunday marks the next step in the 2016 roller coaster season for the Seattle Sounders.
Watch Schmetzer's full press conference plus hear from Valdez, Jordan Morris and Frei below.