By Matt Massey
Special to the Seattle Times
TUKWILA — If this was the end of the Seattle Sounders' rivalry with the Vancouver Whitecaps, it concluded bitterly for the Sounders.
The script went perfectly for Seattle until the 54th minute.
But the Sounders gave up three quick goals in the second half and never recovered in a 3-2 loss to the Whitecaps in Saturday's match in front of 4,401 at Starfire Sports & Entertainment Complex.
Vancouver tallied all three goals in a 10-minute period after Seattle led 1-0 at halftime.
"We just give up the softest goals," Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. "I wrote on the board before the match that defense wins championships and give nothing away.
"We were headed down that path and, then, we give up three [goals] in succession and couldn't recover."
This likely marks the end of a rivalry that has spanned 35 years and is one of the oldest in North American soccer.
Seattle joins Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2009. The two teams could meet in the semifinals or title match in the playoffs.
The Sounders (18-11-10 overall, 10-10-10 league) missed a chance to finish as high as third in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) First Division standings. Seattle will enter the playoffs as a No. 6 seed and play No. 3 Montreal in the first-round two-match aggregate series.
The Sounders are scheduled to host the Impact in Game 1 on Friday and then travel to Montreal for Game 2 on Sept. 28. Montreal could, however, decide to play the first match at home.
"There's a little bit of bad blood between us," said Schmetzer in reference to postgame confrontations after the last two matches between the teams. "Lots of teams look up and down the standings, and they probably don't want to play Seattle.
"We're inconsistent, but if we're on, then be careful."
Vancouver (15-7-8) improved to 53 points and holds the No. 2 spot into the postseason. Puerto Rico (15-6-8, 53 points) has one game left, but has clinched the top spot with the head-to-head tiebreaker edge over the Whitecaps.
Vancouver took a 3-1 lead on Jeff Clarke's lean-in header off a corner kick from Justin Moose in the 67th minute.
Seattle fought back and Kevin Sakuda buried a 12-yard chance, hitting the far left corner after taking a pass between two defenders from Sanna Nyassi.
Nyassi, the Gambian native who has signed with Sounders FC of MLS, scored his first point as a USL Sounder.
Sebastien Le Toux put away a golden one-on-one opportunity for a 1-0 Seattle lead in the 10th minute after Roger Levesque flicked a header his way. It was Le Toux's 21st goal overall this season.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company