SANDY, Utah (ABC 4 Sports) - Mario Martinez ended a season-long scoring drought for the Sounders against Real Salt Lake when he found the net in the 81st minute, helping Seattle advance to the Western Conference finals with a 1-0 victory Thursday night after the teams played to a scoreless tie in the first leg of their series.
“I don’t know you never know what to expect," said head coach Jason Kreis, whose team failed to score a goal in its final four matches. "It could be a situation where it’s hard to come by, and then you come to the game and it ends up 3-2. I think again it was a game where there were chances that weren’t taken properly for both teams. It’s unfortunate that we are on the losing end of that.”
The third-seeded Sounders scored for the first time in five games against Real Salt Lake this season, including the opener of this semifinal Nov. 2 in Seattle. With a 1-0 aggregate victory, the Sounders earned a trip to the conference finals against the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Galaxy defeated the San Jose Earthquakes.
Fredy Montero set the scoring play in motion when he swung a cross out to Martinez on the left side of the box. The pass drew Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando toward the left post. Martinez fired at the opposite post and buried the ball in the right corner.
“You have to score goals to win games," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman. "It really comes down a pretty simple game, if you don’t score goals you’re never going to win games. You have got to win to advance.”
“It’s been a while since we scored," said Kreis. "I miss celebrating and all that stuff. We just came up short. We gave everything we’ve got and put the pressure on them. We created a couple of chances that we needed to and we didn’t score.”
Second-seeded Real Salt Lake became the third higher seed to be knocked out of the MLS Cup playoffs. The Sounders had been winless in three games against RSL during the regular season after failing to score in any of them.
Salt Lake attacked vigorously in the early minutes of the first half. It nearly paid off in the 10th minute when Ned Grabavoy shook off a defender in pursuit and fired a running left-footer down the left side of the box. Sounders keeper Michael Gspurning snagged the ball to deny Grabavoy.
RSL also had a chance to put in a free kick in the 40th minute. Javier Morales put the ball on goal, but Gspurning snatched it out of the air in the center of the box to keep the game scoreless.
Seattle had the advantage of playing with the wind at their backs in the first half. The Sounders moved the ball quickly down field several times and set several corner kicks. Nothing much came from that effort.
RSL keeper Nick Rimando kept Seattle off the board with a brilliant save in the 31st minute. Mario Roberto Martinez launched a left-footer from outside the box on a free kick. Rimando sprang up and batted away the ball into the crossbar to force a corner kick. The Sounders could not get another look at the net from the corner.
Rimando came up with another huge save in the 46th minute. Christian Tiffert found Brad Evans on a cross and Evans tried to sneak a left footer past Rimando along the right post. He dived for the ball and denied Seattle yet again.
Real Salt Lake put a scare into the Sounders in the 62nd minute when Morales served up another long ball. Morales fired off a right-footer from more than 40 yards away. It nearly skipped into the goal before Gspurning came up with the last-minute save.
“Our guys worked so hard for it," said Kreis. "Really the whole year for me, extremely proud of this group, extremely proud of the effort they put forth tonight. A lot of good things came out of this year, with numbers of wins and numbers of points, and we broke some records for our club, so there were definitely some positive things that we should remember.”