Seattle relieved to slay playoff demons, look toward LA

Four years of frustrations are finally over.

With their 1-0 victory over the Real Salt Lake on Thursday, the Seattle Sounders advanced to their first ever Western Conference Championship, where they’ll play the first leg against the LA Galaxy on Sunday (9 pm ET, ESPN).

And not only did they win their first-ever playoff series, they did it by picking up their first road playoff victory in franchise history and snapping a 441-minute scoreless streak against RSL this season.

“Obviously it feels great to win the game,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said. “We knew that it was going to be a tough, hard game. We knew that they were going to come at us but I felt that we did a good job of not giving up too many big things on goal and not giving up too many clean chances.

“I liked the way we battled. Everyone put everything forward.”

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As good as their effort was, the Sounders still needed someone to provide a special moment. That turned out to be Mario Martínez, who was given his first MLS start in place of the injured Mauro Rosales.

Taking a clever delivery from Fredy Montero, the Honduran international laced a volley inside the far post in the 81st minute that ultimately stood up as the game-winner. It was a stunning turnaround for Martínes, who only a few weeks ago had gone public with some of his frustrations over not playing more.

“I was a little frustrated with the idea that I wouldn’t get the chance to play but we can’t think about that in a game like this,” Martínez said through a translator. “We have to focus on the opportunities that we have.”

From there, the Sounders were basically forced to hold on for dear life. During most of the game’s final minutes, RSL applied heavy pressure and forced the Sounders to scramble on defense. Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning was also called upon to make several of his career-high nine saves, but still managed to complete his second straight shutout.

How the Sounders got to this point seems less important than the fact that they got here, though.

“We have never had this chance before,” Montero said. “We are very excited to play against the Galaxy. We are hungry to get to the final. We played hard today and we did what we had to.”