Martinez strike sends Sounders to first playoff series win


Turns out the fourth time is the charm.

Mario Martinez scored the biggest goal in Seattle Sounders’ history Thursday night, drilling an 81st-minute half-volley from distance past Nick Rimando into the far side of the net, lifting Seattle to a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake.

The victory sends Seattle to the Western Conference final for the first time in team history after exiting in the first round for three straight years.

The Sounders visit the Los Angeles Galaxy at 9 p.m. Sunday in the first leg of the conference final. The return leg will be at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Sunday, Nov. 18.

For 80 minutes in front of a boisterous crowd at sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium, it was looking like Real Salt Lake might bounce the Sounders from the playoffs for the second-straight season.

The scoreboard read 0-0, but Real Salt Lake was controlling possession, playing with urgency, and peppering Sounders’ goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.

As is so often the case, Real Salt Lake was able to dominate possession and the pace of the match with its short passing game through a midfield anchored by Kyle Beckerman in back and Javier Morales in front.

But time and again, that possession amounted to nothing, as gusty winds turned crosses into errant knuckleballs and Gspurning delivered nine huge—if not always pretty—saves.

Then Martinez, a promising Honduran midfielder picked up mid-season, changed everything, letting a beautiful, curling lobbed pass from Fredy Montero bounce once before unleashing a clinical one-touch strike that accomplished the near-miraculous: getting past Rimando.

Rimando, so brilliant in the first leg of the series, came up big again early in the second half with a diving save on a Brad Evans shot from the top of the penalty area.

But he was helpless against Martinez, who started for the injured Mauro Rosales.

Real Salt Lake pressed hard in the closing minutes and through the five minutes of stoppage time, but couldn’t come up with the equalizer. Late substitute Fabian Espindola skied an open look in the 85th minute, and Gspurning slapped away a Javier Morales header in the 90th minute.

For Real Salt Lake, it was a disappointing end to a successful season that saw that them land the second seed in the Western Conference and come away from the first leg of the series with a much-needed draw.

For the Sounders, it was the end of a drought that seemed to be getting inside their heads and the beginning of a new chapter in franchise history.

  • Hopper

    That was extra sweet. Should be a great series with LA after my Sounders finally figured them out this season. The Sounders and their great fans deserve some late November playoff soccer.


    • ben

      2 more.

      Avenged RSL from last year.

      Now we have LA to avenge from the year before.

      And all we can hope is for Houston to make the final and avenge the playoff loss our inaugural year…. What a spectacle the home final would be..


  • Charles

    Not a bigger goal than Kenny Hibbitt’s goal in Sudden Death in ’82 in the semis against Ft. Lauderdale, but biggest goal in MLS Sounders history.


  • Tony in Quakeland

    LA-Seattle comes down to Keane and Montero. Keane has been inspired lately and Freddy…let’s just say he gets into a funk now and again. If the great assist gives him confidence, Seattle can win. If not…it’s going to be tough


  • el paso tx wants NASL

    Rsl had everything to kill sounders and they hold back at home. Sounders played ugly soccer like always(not hating) and how can rsl hold back until they sounders scored. Rsl has better attacking options and sounders were playing scared. Now sounders neeed to improve and prove their fans because if not galaxy will kill them. Galaxy vs united and sounders will let their fans down- by the way sounders goalie in every game since he join the team, has been saving the team more than the usual soccer goalie and that’s not good. Therefore galaxy will win and go to RFK.


    • Tony in Quakeland

      I don’t think that’s true. I certainly don’t think the Sounders play ugly soccer – their passing game is second only to RSLs. And if it wasn’t for three terrific saves from Rimando in the first leg and one last night, the Sounders could have easily taken this series 3-0.


    • lassidawg

      (not hating) Sounds like hating. Unlike most teams in the MLS the Soudners don’t tend to sit back and hope for ties in most road games at least not until it gets late in the game. Did you not watch the first game when Rimando kept it from being 3-0? I also don’t recall seeing Sounder’s players rolling around on the ground for the last 15 minutes after the goal, unlike RSL last year at CLINK. Did they stall by taking extra time to sub and get the ball back in play, yes but who doesn’t.


    • Me

      If the Sounders play ugly soccer, what teams in this league would you say play quality soccer? Granted last night’s game wasn’t their best, but they are hardly another San Jose. Nor did they do anything worse than RSL’s “park the bus for 90 minutes” last weekend in Seattle.


    • Travis

      Um in most games the sounders goalie really hasn’t had to many saves to make and ultimately he didn’t have to make any top flight saves last night. Also are you serious with the sounders playing ugly soccer? They are usually one of the better passing teams but last night was not a pretty game


    • divers suck

      I get it el paso, you absolutely hate everything Sounders and it’s just killing you to even aknowledge that they are moving on in the play-offs, much less deserve it. I get it.


    • Skeeter

      Your post Kinda reminds me of the time when Dick Morris predicted a Romney landslide…


    • peterjh

      “Rsl has better attacking options” Really? Were you born yet the last time RSL scored?


  • Travis

    Not the sounders best performance last night but ultimately the win is what was needed. They need to try and get a bit more of the ball though, they were thoroughly out possessed throughout the game.


  • Vinz Clortho

    Not much to separate these two teams…A moment of brilliance that RSL couldn’t match…Congrats Seattle. Take it to LA.


  • Neruda

    I’m pulling for sounders eventhough I’m an RSL fan. Keane and Donovan are hot though but I’m not sure who’s hot for Seattle besides gspuring, maybe Martinez? Will be a good matchup.

    RSL needs more attacking players. Another DP to unlock defenses is vital to compete for next season.


    • acj

      I think the lack of hot players has more to do with RSL’s defense and the fact that they’ve played each other three times in the past couple weeks rather than anything wrong with Seattle’s attack.


  • JRP

    Congrats to SSFC. As an RSL fan last night hurt, but SSFC outplayed RSL offensively in both games and deserved the win. Sabo and Morales sucked last night. Morales was particularly bad every time he got the ball. Sabo never acted like he wanted the ball. Espindola should have been subbed in for Sabo. Jr was playing his heart out.
    Go SSFC. But I don’t think you can stop LA.


    • Jeremy

      Like I told you yesterday, SSFC beat LA 2-0 & 4-0 at home this season and lost on a last minute fluke goal in LA. Seattle can and will stop LA.


  • whoop-whoop

    No, this wasn’t a pretty game, but it was entertaining and most certainly a hard fought, tight match-up of two determined clubs. Both goaltenders were rock solid, with Rimando in particular at his usual, cat-quick, acrobatic self. I didn’t see a lack of ambition from either side, so much as a hard time overcoming capable defense from both, aided by the 20-30 mph winds. A good number of set pieces were harmlessly anticlimactic and the majority of threatening build up culminated with errant crosses blown harmlessly away from danger. It was really beginning to feel like one of those nights with two evenly matched sides locking horns, exchanging blows in a stalemate, only to be decided by some freak play or a cruel, insidious bounce. I’m glad that wasn’t the case. Montero’s composed, chipped pass to Martinez on the outside got me jumping off the couch and the perfectly timed blast just inside the post buckled my knees and sent me to ground. It was a fitting end to a tense match and a nice way for Seattle and it’s followers to grab that elusive first playoff series while also a tough way to send RSL home. This could well be the final act before this core group of players is shuffled.

    Well done both sides…. I’m looking forward to Sounders v Galaxy.


  • Knuckles

    It’s hard to play a pretty game against a team that is as solid defensively as RSL. That golazo by Martinez was a thing of absolute beauty.


  • Charles

    Seattle fans will be a big factor against LA.
    A week and a half. I would guess they end up opening the whole thing next week. If it is a close first game.

    67k cheering for a chance to be in the Final will be very loud and very fun.


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