SANDY, Utah – One goal. Already a Sounders legend.
Mario Martínez is used to playing the hero. He’d done it with Real España in the Honduran league. He did it this summer with the Honduran Olympic team in a run to the quarterfinals. And when he got the call-up to the full national team, he didn’t miss a beat, playing the hero there, too, in helping lead the Catrachos into the Hexagonal with a dominant performance last month in an 8-1 win over Canada.
But he hadn’t done it with the Sounders. Not yet.
Then Thursday night happened, and in a split second, Martínez carved his name into Seattle’s soccer lore, lacing home the winner in a 1-0 victory at Real Salt Lake to send his side into the Western Conference championship.
“This is one of the most important ones,” Martínez said about his first Seattle goal through an interpreter afterward. “I have scored some that will always be in my mind.”
This one will always be in the collective minds of the Seattle fanbase as well, most likely. Martínez broke something of a curse – Seattle had crashed out in the first round of the playoffs in each of their first three seasons of existence – and did so in emphatic fashion.
“Mario Martínez scored an unbelievable goal, and that’s what it was gonna take in this series,” said Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid in a postgame press conference. “We knew before the game it was probably gonna be a one-goal thing, and I’m just proud of the guys for the way they battled.”
Schmid’s side endured pressure for much of the night as RSL flipped the script from the first leg, when it was the Sounders who were predominantly on the front foot. But even when they were relying on goalkeeper Michael Gspurning to bail them out, they were still creating chances down the other end.
And most of those were through Martínez, who shook off the rust accumulated by several months of sporadic playing time to repeatedly trouble the Claret-and-Cobalt. His best look prior to the goal was a 30-yard free kick blast a half-hour in, one that RSL’s Nick Rimando had to stretch for in order to tip it off the crossbar and out.
This was the breakout performance Seattle had hoped to get from the youngster, who made the most of his chance in the starting XI while captain Mauro Rosales recovered from a hamstring injury.
“I’m very, very happy for Mario,” said Gspurning. “He’s obviously a quality player, he plays with the Honduran national team, and he had his struggles here at first. But he’s shown tonight what kind of a player he is and how much a part of this team he is.”
Martínez, for his part, felt that way, too.
“I’m happy not so much because of the goal, but because the team got the win tonight,” he explained.
Seattle’s happy, too.