This is how it ends for Sporting Kansas City.
New year, new opposing city, new circumstances.
But a recognizable conclusion. For the third straight year, Sporting Kansas City's playoff run was halted before it ever left the starting blocks.
It was as cruel an ending as the past two.
Never miss a local story.
Seattle struck in the 88th minute Thursday, the difference in a 1-0 victory against Sporting KC in the Western Conference knockout round at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle forward Nelson Valdez connected with a cross from Joevin Jones less than 10 minutes before the whistle — then replays showed Valdez appeared to be offside.
The flag stayed down, and Sporting KC stayed without a postseason victory since it hoisted the MLS Cup in 2013.
Earlier Thursday, Sporting KC watched its only goal wiped away by an offside call, and it twice argued for the ejection of Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso.
"We are owed an apology from both the (Professional Referee Organization) and the league," Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview. "It's an absolute disgrace."
Seattle moves on to face FC Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals. Sporting KC will board a plane destined for home. It has lost in the knockout round in three straight seasons, all of them away from Children's Mercy Park.
On Thursday, in a match that absorbed the intensity MLS envisioned with the one-and-done knockout round, Sporting KC thought it had an early second half lead. In fact, the ball grazed the back of the net in a scoreless tie, and Sporting KC defender Matt Besler charged toward the corner flag in celebration. A whistle stopped his path.
That offside flag.
Besler was ruled offside — by the narrowest of margins, replay showed— after sending home a Benny Feilhaber free kick in the 53rd minute.
That was the only ball to get past Seattle keeper Stefan Frei, the hero in a match during which he saved seven shots.
Yes, Sporting KC had its chances. A year after a double-post penalty kick doomed the club in a playoff loss in Portland, Graham Zusi connected with the post in the 10th minute. Paulo Nagamura twice had quality looks in the opening half hour, but he placed his shots into the chest of Frei.
Seattle had only one shot on goal — Valdez's late header.
"Our team was lights out," Vermes said. "The performance was fantastic. The energy was incredible. The effort by the guys (was) just top-class."
Alonso arrived at two critical junctures in the match — with Sporting KC players twice calling for his ejection.
In the 32nd minute, Alonso was shown a yellow card for a hard tackle that took out Sporting KC captain Roger Espinoza.
"That was a red card all year long," Vermes said. "The fact he doesn't get that there is an absolute travesty."
Playing on that yellow card in the second half, Alonso slid to slow Feilhaber, who was making a run along the left flank. Alonso wasn’t even whistled for a foul, much to the chagrin of Feilhaber, who was so demonstrative in his argument with referee Ismail Elfath that he drew his own yellow card.
Feilhaber needed to be restrained in his argument with Elfath after the match.
"The game was taken away from us. That's the biggest travesty of the night," Vermes said.
"I couldn't be prouder of the way our team played. We owned the game. We gave nothing away. They scored a goal with a guy offsides. We gave nothing away in this game. We were dominating the game. And they know it. They know it. That's the sad piece about it."
A victory would have guaranteed Sporting KC its first home playoff game since 2013.
Instead, a loss sparked the unofficial commencement of a fickle offseason that includes key out-of-contract players and an expansion draft. A group that has won three trophies since 2012 could be separated in the coming months, though it's not necessarily a certainty.
What is certain: The 2016 season is done.