It only takes one goal. In a battle of two defensive-minded teams, just one shot has to make it's way into the back of the net. Such was the result on an historic Thursday night as the Seattle Sounders finally punched their ticket to the Western Conference Finals.
Oh, who am I kidding. I can't stay straight faced on this. I wish I had taped my reaction when I was sure the ball had hit the back of the net. Something along the lines of "YES! HE DID IT! HE DID IT! HE DID IT!". Al Michaels I am not.
It took a monumental performance from the Sounders to finally overcome Nick Rimando and the rest of the Royals, as the keeper made two more unbelievable saves in defiance of Seattle's decent pressure. Finally, in the 80th minute, Mario Martinez, making his first Seattle start in MLS play, smacked a strike that not even a prime Kasey Keller would have stopped into the bottom right corner of the net. The play was set up by two players that are frequently maligned by certain corners of the Sounders fandom, Brad Evans and Fredy Montero, and originated from a terrific swipe from Osvaldo Alonso. And now, no matter what Martinez does the rest of his time in Seattle, will be remembered in the northwest.
As far as the Sounders are concerned, the playoffs are playing out almost as well as they could hope (barring a miracle Whitecaps run). That is not to disparage any of the final four teams remaining, but there does not remain a team that the Sounders have a losing record against. And there is already talk about 67,000 spectators a week from Sunday when the defending champion LA Galaxy come to town. When even Mitch of Mitch in the Morning says he will come to a Sounders game if they make the conference finals, you know the town has an eye on the coming matches. Let him know how happy you are here.
With that next series comes more pressure. LA won't have the scoring troubles that Salt Lake had. That was made evident in their 3-1 shellacking of San Jose in the second leg of their series with the supporter's shield winners. If Seattle wants to move on and have a chance of hosting Houston in the MLS Cup, the forwards are going to need to contribute directly to the scoring. Montero and Johnson, Ochoa and Estrada, need to put multiple goals away. Technically, there are other routes to victory, but they are unlikely. A strong defensive presence in the away leg, even if it results in a loss, would be a huge boost before coming home to what is expected to be a big time crowd.
Houston will be taking on DC United after two more big games. The Dynamo went into Livestrong Sporting Park and took care of business, using their 2 goal series lead to preserve a playoff berth. United, after all the drama surrounding the adjusting of their match times for Hurricane Sandy and the recent blizzard, managed to put away New York after an 88th minute strike from rookie Nick DeLeon.
Salt Lake's feelings on the match might feel familiar to some Sounders faithful.
After the defensive clinic put up by two center defensive backs this week, it is scary to think the two may have been team mates. Can you imagine? Beckerman and Alonso patrolling the middle of the field together? Unstoppable.
How does a team know when it is time to rebuild? This article states that answering this question is an important part of the growth of the league.
To finish things off (because are we really looking beyond Sounders playoffs right now?) people are talking about Barcelona's upset loss to Celtic in the UEFA Champions League.
Anyway. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! FOUR MORE WEEKS! FOUR MORE WEEKS! FOUR MORE WEEKS!