Sandy, UT, United States (4E Sports) – Midfielder Mario Martinez ripped a goal in the 81st minute to help the Seattle Sounders advance to the Western Conference Championship with a 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The win gave the Sounders their first playoff series win and booked a spot in the West finals against defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy. The championship showdown will start Sunday at Home Depot Center.
Martinez, who replaced the injured Mauro Rosales in the starting lineup, made the most of the opportunity with his first-ever Seattle goal against RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
The winning sequence started when forward Eddie Johnson eluded a pair of RSL defenders to a loose ball and flicked it to Brad Evans.
After drawing a pair of defenders, Evans found Fredy Montero, who then spotted Martinez unmarked at the far post. Martinez then booted the game-winning goal, beating Rimando’s tight guarding.
The loss was a devastating one for Real Salt Lake, which dominated possession and tested Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who had nine spectacular saves for a clean slate.
RSL had several chances to score early in the game, with the outstanding play of Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy.
Grabavoy had a chance in the 10th minute but he was thwarted by Gspurning. In the 19th, Paulo Jr. nearly slid one in at the near post but he missed just wide.
In the 17th minute, Seattle had its best chance but Christian Tiffert’s shot just missed the far post.
In the 31st minute, Martinez unleashed a 30-yard free kick but Rimando was there to push it off the crossbar.
In the second half, the game was close and looked to a penalty shootout before Martinez delivered the game-winning goal for the Sounders.
Despite the loss, Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis said he’s proud with the performance of his players.
“Our guys worked so hard for it,” said Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis. “I’m extremely proud of the effort they put forth tonight.”