Nov 9, 2012, 1:02 AM EST
The fourth time was a charm for Seattle, who saw Honduran international Mario Martínez – making his first Major League Soccer start – blast the Sounders into the Western Conference final. His left-footed, 15-yard half-volley in the 81st minute beat Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando far post for the series’ only goal, the Sounders winning their first playoff series in franchise history.
After dominating Friday’s first leg, Seattle met an energetic RSL to start Thursday’s match at Rio Tinto Stadium. After setting into the game mid-way through the first, the Sounders saw Real ascend through the second half, slowly gaining control of the match. The home side’s climb halted when Martínez, in the starting lineup for the injured Mauro Rosales, ended their season.
With the win, Seattle moves on to their first Western Conference final, a two-legged series starting Sunday in Los Angeles against the defending champion LA Galaxy.
Seattle advances, 1-0 (aggregate)
Man of the Match: After a poor first half, it looked like Seattle would be better off with Steve Zakuani taking over as a left wing in place of Mario Martínez. But head coach Sigi Schmid persisted with the man who’d played only 40 regular season minute, his loyalty paying off nine minutes from time when Fredy Montero’s chip over RSL’s right side fell perfectly in stride for Martínez. The midfielder strode onto and through a shot that curled toward Nick Rimando’s far post, settling into the side netting to send Seattle through.
The goal, then the analysis (below):This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
Threesome of knowledge: What we learned
Sigi Schmid made the right call in midfield.
Brad Evans has played for Sigi Schmid since 2007, so it wasn’t surprising the 27-year-old midfielder drew Thursday’s most important assignment. Moved from left midfield into the center, Evans was tasked with disrupting holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman’s control of RSL’s game. Situated above destroyer Osvaldo Alonso in what played as a 4-1-3-2 formation, Evans’ persistence forced RSL to drop right-sided midfielder Will Johnson back to help their build up.
Slowly, Real adjusted to the tactic, but without Johnson to balance their midfield, RSL became predictably left-leaning, making life easier for Osvaldo Alonso. Late in the match, the Sounder linchpin made a number of key tackles, giving his own Man of the Match-caliber performance.
RSL’s central defenders locked down Seattle’s attack.
The absence of Rosales was huge. Not only did it deprive Seattle of their biggest leg one advantage (Rosales versus RSL’s left back), it also took away the man most likely to augment the Sounders’ battle against Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake’s central defenders).
RSL took the chance of leaving their defenders two-on-two against Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero. With those numbers, you’d expect Seattle to generate some chance through their forwards, given enough opportunities. But thanks to strong performances from Olave and Borchers, Seattle’s 27-goal duo had very few opportunities. Olave had the speed and strength to compete with Johnson, while Borchers shadowed Montero’s forays backward to connect with his midfield.
With Olave and Borchers in form, Seattle was going to need a goal like Martínez’s to break through.
Alonso, Gspurning key the defense. Again.
Tonight, Michael Gspurning won the battle, even if he didn’t approach Rimando’s Friday heights. Tonight, Seattle’s goalkeeper lived up to Sigi Schmid’s year-long superlatives, making nine saves while keeping his 180-minute clean sheet.
In front of him, it was again Alonso cleaning everything up. Perhaps he was fortunate not to get called for a first half shoulder charge in the box, but after four years in Major League Soccer, the league’s premier destroyer knows how to walk that line. Late in the match, long after he’d picked up a 51st minute yellow card, Alonso made a number of key tackles deep in Seattle’s end that allowed his team to kill off the game’s final moments.
Packaged for takeaway
- It was not a series to remember for Chris Wingert. The RSL defender, who was left looking at so many first leg crosses, picked up an injury in warmups. Kenny Mansally got the call at left back.
- RSL also started without Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio’s normal partner held back with an injured hamstring. The Argentine came on in the second half for Paulo Jr.
- In the first half, Salt Lake was intent on using Paulo Jr.’s speed, repeatedly feeding balls into space behind Seattle’s defense. Nice reads from Gspurning thwarted the tactic.
- Seattle and Los Angeles met in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals, the Galaxy getting a 1-0 win in Seattle en route to a 3-1 series victory.
- For Real Salt Lake, the question is whether they keep this core together. They finished second in the West, but after three-straight playoff disappointments, Garth Lagerway and Jason Kreis may look to shake things up.
Mar 4, 2015, 7:15 PM EST
Last season a one-hit wonder? Not a chance. D.C. United is here to stay.
Mar 4, 2015, 7:14 PM EST
The USWNT is looking to rebound from the 2014 Algarve Cup, where it finished in 7th after drawing Japan and losing to Sweden and Denmark.
Mar 4, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
Columbus needs to build on last season’s success or see it flutter away in the winds of time. Can they seize the season?
Mar 4, 2015, 6:26 PM EST
Recaps, reaction, analysis, videos and more from all seven games in the PL on Wednesday.
Mar 4, 2015, 6:19 PM EST
And all parties are sounding quite confident, almost in the cavalier “of course we won” tone we heard so much last season.
Mar 4, 2015, 5:52 PM EST
Blues battle to hard-fought win at West Ham, as Mourinho hails his sides display.
Mar 4, 2015, 5:38 PM EST
Manchester United needed a gift from opposing goalkeeper Tim Krul, but Louis van Gaal loved his club’s performance on Wednesday.
Mar 4, 2015, 5:37 PM EST
After their 12th defeat of the season, the Toffees after sinking towards the bottom three.
Mar 4, 2015, 5:10 PM EST
Burnley’s loss leaves them 19th, in the drop zone with 22 points.
Mar 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Swansea sit ninth with 40 points, while Spurs sit 7th place. Tottenham is four points behind No. 5 Liverpool.
Mar 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Potters continue to climb up the table, as Toffees head in the opposite direction.
Mar 4, 2015, 4:53 PM EST
Chelsea stay top after hard-fought win at Upton Park.
Mar 4, 2015, 4:50 PM EST
It’s now five goals from his last five games for the Frenchman.
Mar 4, 2015, 4:43 PM EST
Citizens grind out home win to stay in touch with Chelsea.
Mar 4, 2015, 4:42 PM EST
Jonas was given the all-clear from cancer in November.
Mar 4, 2015, 4:40 PM EST
Manchester United remains fourth, one point behind third place Arsenal, while Newcastle is still comfortably in 11th place with 35 points.
Mar 4, 2015, 3:49 PM EST
Seven games are going on in the PL on Wednesday, watch the second half of every match right here.
Mar 4, 2015, 3:48 PM EST
The guy seemed to bend a bullet, real “Matrix” stuff.
Mar 4, 2015, 3:09 PM EST
Swansea’s French striker carried off the pitch after appearing to collapse at White Hart Lane.
Mar 4, 2015, 3:07 PM EST
Dani Alves is all but out at Barcelona, but where will the Brazilian back end up?
- Wednesday’s Premier League roundup: Chelsea, Man City win; six of top seven prevail 0
- Jose Mourinho says his Chelsea team “were brothers on the pitch” in crucial win 0
- West Ham United 0-1 Chelsea: Hazard’s header enough for league leaders 0
- Newcastle United 0-1 Manchester United: Krul gaffe spoils Jonas return 1
- Swansea’s Bafetimbi Gomis stretchered off the pitch after appearing to collapse 1
- Watch Live: West Ham United vs. Chelsea (Lineups and Live Stream) 0