SANDY, Utah – Seattle’s first goal against Real Salt Lake this season was a big one: It put them in the MLS Western Conference finals.
Mario Roberto Martinez ended a season-long scoring drought for the Sounders against Real Salt Lake when he found the net in the 81st minute, helping Seattle advance with a 1-0 victory Thursday night after the teams played to a scoreless tie in the first leg of their series.
The third-seeded Sounders scored for the first time in five games against Real Salt Lake, including the opener of this semifinal Nov. 2 in Seattle. With a 1-0 aggregate victory, the Sounders earned a trip to the conference finals against the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy.
The Galaxy defeated the San Jose Earthquakes.
“We were thinking we could score a goal,” Seattle forward Fredy Montero said. “Through this week, all we needed to do is score one goal. The goal was in the 80-something minute, but we’re happy with that. We score one goal and we win.”
Montero set the decisive scoring play in motion when he swung a cross out to Martinez on the left side of the box. The pass drew Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando toward the left post. Martinez fired at the opposite post and buried the ball in the right corner.
Second-seeded Salt Lake became the third higher seed to be knocked out of the MLS Cup playoffs.
The Sounders had been winless in three games against RSL during the regular season after failing to score in any of them.
None of that mattered. With RSL struggling on offense at the end of the season, the Sounders felt confident they could come through.
“We’ve come in here and won before, so we were confident we could do it again,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “We’ve been playing good defense. We haven’t been giving up many goals and that’s important from our perspective. We knew we could get a goal at the end of the day eventually.”
Salt Lake gave the Sounders a scare in the 62nd minute when Javier Morales fired off a right-footer from more than 40 yards away. It nearly skipped into the goal before Michael Gspurning came up with the last-minute save.
Seattle might have extra motivation against Los Angeles when the teams meet on Sunday. The Galaxy made a mistake in a press release after winning on Wednesday by mentioning they would meet Salt Lake in the Western Conference final.
“L.A. thought they were playing Salt Lake,” Schmid said. “They put out a press release saying they were playing Salt Lake. We hate to disappoint them.”