Mario Martínez is on the verge of becoming one of the best wingers in CONCACAF. He starred in the Olympics, he starred in World Cup qualifying and he will be a star in MLS next season.
This is not the type of player MLS clubs have typically been able to bring in for an injured starter in the past. Or, to be perfectly honest, in the present. When you lose a guy like Mauro Rosales and have virtually no drop-off in production, you have a team that should be expected to contend for championships.
Of course, the Sounders are still one round away, and have a team that knows a thing or two about trophies between them and the promised land. But it’s hard not to like the chances of a side that can absorb personnel losses like that and still gut out a 1-0 aggregate win over an RSL team that was justified in their own title aspirations.
These were two low-scoring games. Defensive struggles, even.
But it was not for lack of ideas or creativity in the attack. It was not for lack of chances. It was not for any reason besides the greatness of Nick Rimando and Michael Gspurning.
Rimando’s acrobatics in net are well chronicled, and he’ll likely end his career as the MLS all-time leader in shutouts, wins and saves. He added to his highlight film on Thursday, particularly with a 46th-minute diving parry of Brad Evans’ 17-yard drive that had made reservations for the bottom corner the moment it left his laces. That was a save very, very few ‘keepers make.
Gspurning is less acrobatic, less spectacular, but was just as effective. He was off his line repeatedly in the second half to beat RSL attackers to through balls, and commands the box better than any other ‘keeper in the league. Seattle lean on him heavily, and it’s a burden he’s happy to bear.
Anyway, over the course of a single playoff series I can’t remember two ‘keepers putting in a better performance. Neither really made a mistake, and it was only a moment of absolute perfection from Martínez that kept this one from going to extra time at 0-0.
I’ve written about this twice in recent weeks: Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey are facing some serious roster decisions this offseason. This is a group that earned the right to try to add to their trophy haul, and came up short – but did so while throwing haymakers all the way down.
Father time and the salary cap, however, make it extremely likely that this iteration of RSL is done. Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler have been excellent (and affordable) understudies to Jamison Olave; Luis Gil and Sebastián Velásquez have earned time in midfield, maybe in place of Ned Grabavoy, or Javier Morales, or Will Johnson. It’s possible that Kenny Mansally’s evolution as a left back has made Chris Wingert expendable.
Will it be a wholesale, New York-style overhaul? No. But the time has probably come to make some big moves. Finishing out the season with 513 minutes of scoreless soccer and a starting lineup packed with guys on the other side of 30 means it’s time.