The match between the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto was for a place to battle the defending MLS Cup Champion LA Galaxy. The question was will anyone score. The match had a lot to follow up after the crazy match between New York and D.C., but it was sure to be a fascinating match. Nick Rimando and Michael Gspurning looked to steal the show again. Eddie Johnson returned for the Sounders to give them a better attack. Salt Lake was going on over 300 minutes of MLS action without scoring. Despite all that, it was hard to figure out just what to expect. Of course when the teams do not like each other that adds to the mystery.
A last minute change for Salt Lake inserted Kenny Mansally for Chris Wingert after an injury in warm ups. Wingert
has been solid for RSL. The pitch was covered with streamers as the wind was kicking up. Television viewers could hear the wind ripping through the microphones. The first 15 minutes came and went with little action as the teams settled in. As expected, there was plenty of physical play to speak of between the rivals.
The chances were not all that challenging. The teams traded corners, but never really threatened either keeper. Christian Tiffert went off with a bloodied face in the 26th minute, but Salt Lake did not up the tempo despite having a possession advantage. Fredy Montero came away without a booking after two questionable tackles. Mario Martinez got bar on a free kick in the 32nd minute for Seattle, but still no one could find the net.
In the four previous matches between these teams this year only one goal had been scored. It was no surprise that it was goalless at halftime. Both keepers looked settled and one goal seemed to be all that was needed.
The second half started with a bang as a bad clearance by Kyle Beckerman gave Brad Evans a chance but Rimando came up big again. However, the form of the first half was regained as both teams packed the middle. The ball could be switched, but the chances were few and far between. Salt Lake was gaining more possession, but barely threatened. It had the feel of extra time. Salt Lake’s streak of holding their opponents without a goal went over 500 minutes.
Gspurning was doing what he was asked. He made one diving safe that looked rather routine as the match headed to the final 15 of regulation. The run of play was moving to RSL as Seattle struggled to connect on passes. The wind was aiding Salt Lake as well. So of course the opening goal would come against the run of play.
Brad Evans made the run down the right moving to the middle and drawing players. He laid off the ball to Fredy Montero who hesitated momentarily while the Salt Lake defense collapsed even further. Tony Beltran watched the ball lifted over his head and Mario Martinez connected with a laser on the half volley to finally beat Rimando far post. It was the first goal for Martinez as a member of the Sounders and it was Seattle’s first lead ever in the MLS
playoffs with only seven minutes remaining.
RSL’s coach Jason Kries put all his attackers in with Luis Gil and Johnny Steele replacing defensive players. It would be corner after corner for the team in red. The attack was coming fierce. Gspurning would have to flick over one redirected header. Rimando was playing at the midfield stripe as his team pressed.
It would not be enough as Seattle would set franchise history finally reaching the Conference Final. They will travel to Los Angeles on Sunday. For Salt Lake, the long goalless drought at the end of the year leaves them with many questions. The Seattle victory means that each team that hosted the second leg in the semifinals failed to capitalize on home field advantage.