SANDY, Utah – It was a long, long time coming. Over 450 minutes vs. RSL this season, over nearly the entirety of the Western Conference semifinals, over four years of existence.
But the Seattle Sounders finally got the goal they needed on Thursday night when Mario Martínez ripped a far-post shot past the otherwise indomitable Nick Rimando, giving his team a 1-0 lead that turned into a 1-0 win 10 minutes later, and – for the first time – making Seattle victorious in an MLS playoff series.
With the win, the Sounders moved on to the Western Conference Championship, which starts Sunday night with a trip to face the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.
Martínez, who started in place of the injured Mauro Rosales, made the most of his opportunity on the biggest of stages with his first-ever Seattle goal. His goal was the first the team had scored against RSL in all competitions this season, and just about the only way to beat Rimando, who turned in yet another sterling performance after his first-leg blinder.
The winning sequence began at midfield, when forward Eddie Johnson – returning from a hamstring injury – beat a pair of RSL defenders to a loose ball and flicked it into the run of Brad Evans. After drawing a pair of defenders, Evans found Fredy Montero at the top of the box with enough time and space to pick out Martínez unmarked at the far post. He let a one-timer rip, beating Rimando to the back post as his team descended into euphoria.
It was a cruel cut for RSL, who had the run of play and the better chances on the night. They dominated possession and forced Sounders ‘keeper Michael Gspurning into perhaps his best performance of the season. The big Austrian was his usual self, commanding the box, beating attackers to through balls and punching out crosses, but he added a double-helping of spectacular saves to the mix for the clean sheet this time through.
It didn’t look like it would take more than 80 minutes to score, however. Both teams came out gunning for the first goal, and RSL could have found it early several times thanks to the combination play of Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy, as well as yeoman’s work up top from Álvario Saborío.
Their best look came in the 19th minute when left back Kenny Mansally got down the flank and whipped in a cross that Paulo Jr. met at the near post. But the Brazilian fluffed his chance, shinning it wide to keep things level.
Twelve minutes later, Martínez announced his presence with a rasping, 30-yard free kick that Rimando pushed off the crossbar. RSL pushed back with several looks of their own, but Gspurning was up to the task each time.
Rimando was called upon again just seconds into the second half, getting down quickly to his left to parry a left-footed drive from Evans just wide in spectacular fashion.
At that point, it looked like penalty kicks would be the only way to decide this tie between the league’s second and third-best defensive teams. But Martínez had different ideas, and the Sounders closed things out to make franchise history.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Mario Martínez||Filled Mauro Rosales' shoes more than ably, creating danger throughout the game and lashing home a worthy winner|
|2||Michael Gspurning||One of MLS' best 'keepers at the top of his game, putting in a complete goalkeeping performance to keep a crucial clean sheet|
|3||Nick Rimando||Will be left wondering how his team with eliminated after putting up a second blinding performance in goal. Had no chance whatsoever on the winner|