SEATTLE – Kasey Keller took one final lap of appreciation around Seattle’s home field, clapping and giving thumbs up the entire way to those that stuck around.
The career of arguably American’s most influential goalkeeper ended on Wednesday night with a victory, that turned out to be a loss.
“It’s a weird, weird feeling thinking this is the last time,” Keller said after the Sounders’ 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake.
Osvaldo Alonso and Lamar Neagle scored 5 minutes apart early in the second half, but Salt Lake advanced to the Western Conference final with a 3-2 aggregate victory over Seattle.
Seattle failed to dig out of a 3-0 hole created with a lackluster performance last Saturday in Utah, although they nearly gave Keller a chance to extend his career.
Instead, it’s Salt Lake moving on to the conference final to play either New York or Los Angeles with a trip to the MLS Cup final at stake.
“Four days ago, we were just completely dominant. Tonight, back on our heels and being dominated,” Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said. “In a span of four days, (it’s) difficult to figure out. Our guys battled through, believed in each other kept at it.”
It’s the second trip to Major League Soccer’s final four in the last three seasons for Salt Lake. It won the 2009 MLS Cup final on Seattle’s home field, then ended the most successful of the Sounders’ three seasons on Wednesday night.
They did it by withstanding a frantic final 30 minutes as Seattle tried to get an equalizing goal and force extra time. All of that came after a breakneck first hour in which Seattle dominated the match.
It was a complete change from the game played in Utah when Salt Lake controlled every aspect and built what seemed to be an insurmountable advantage behind two goals from Alvaro Saborio and one from Ned Grabavoy. That third goal from Grabavoy, in the 88th minute of a rout, proved to be the winner in the two-leg aggregate goal semifinal.
“That third one was a monster and it ended up being just that,” Keller said.
But Salt Lake was vulnerable, playing without central defenders Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers and that vulnerability was exploited all night by Seattle.
Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando was peppered with 26 total shots from Seattle, including nine on goal, but the biggest save for his team came in the first half and from a defender. Rimando left his net exposed off a free kick and Tony Beltran headed Jeff Parke’s blast from the top of the penalty area over the crossbar.
“It happened so fast,” Beltran said. “I was able to react in time and clear it over the goal.”
Alonso finally got Seattle on the board with the first home playoff goal in franchise history – three years in – when he converted a penalty kick in the 56th minute. Beltran pulled down Mike Fucito in the penalty area and was given a yellow card for the foul. Alonso converted the penalty with a shot directly at Rimando that couldn’t be stopped.
Five minutes later, Seattle made things nervous for Salt Lake when Alonso settled a loose ball outside the penalty area to Fredy Montero, who dropped a pass into space where Neagle ran on and put a left-footed shot across Rimando’s body and just inside the far post.
But for all the furor Neagle’s goal caused, Seattle failed to get a dangerous attempt on net in the final 30 minutes. Their best shot was an attempt from distance that Neagle couldn’t curl past Rimando. Salt Lake packed in its defense and drained seconds off the clock at every opportunity.
“It’s over. It’s been a helluva three years,” Keller said. “It’s been an honor to come home and play for something as cool as the Sounders have become and were from the first minute.”