One moment of brilliance in the playoffs was what the Seattle Sounders have been looking for during their four MLS seasons. Mario Martinez -- with some help from Fredy Montero, Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson -- delivered it.
The Honduran's half-volley in the 81st minute was undeniably one of the biggest goals in Sounders history, once the timing and execution of it are taken into account. Despite disappearing at times in the second half, Martinez showed a ton of confidence in wasting no time in ripping that shot to the far post. Nick Rimando, who was having another solid night, was defenseless.
The buildup deserves some credit as well. It starts by Osvaldo Alonso picking off a pass in the defensive end. He lays it off to Evans, whose pass to Johnson was a little strong. But Johnson was able to touch it back to Evans, setting up the breakaway. Evans dribbled to the edge of the penalty area, where he drew three defenders and then hit a square pass (that's going to drive some people nuts, I'm sure!) to Montero. Instead of squaring up from about 22 yards out, Montero chipped it to his left where Martinez was waiting. We know what happened next.
It was a thing of beauty and Martinez had almost no room for error on the shot. But it was just what the Sounders needed.
Although there weren't as many obvious highlights on the defensive side, it should be said that the effort there was again top notch. Michael Gspurning came up with nine saves, but he was rarely tested as the defense allowed very little space for RSL to operate. It was an impressive performance that should remind us that this defense is among the best in the league.
SEA - Mario Martinez (Fredy Montero, Brad Evans) 81'
Seattle Sounders FC - Michael Gspurning, Adam Johansson, Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Marc Burch, Christian Tiffert (Andy Rose 73), Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Mario Martinez (Zach Scott 87), Fredy Montero (David Estrada 89), Eddie Johnson.
TOTAL SHOTS: 9; SHOTS ON GOAL: 5; FOULS: 13; OFFSIDE: 3; CORNER KICKS: 5; SAVES: 9.
Real Salt Lake - Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran (Luis Gil 85), Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Kenny Mansally (Jonny Steele 86), Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson, Paulo Junior (Fabian Espindola 58), Alvaro Saborio.
SEA - Osvaldo Alonso (caution) 51'
Referee: Chris Penso
Referee's Assistants: Kermit Quisenberry, Frank Anderson
4th Official: Drew Fischer
Time of Game: 1:53
Weather: Windy, Cloudy, and 58 degrees
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial
Seattle Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid:
On the overall take on the game:
"Obviously it feels great to win the game. We knew that it was going to be a tough, hard game. We knew that they were going to come at us but I felt that we did a good job of not giving up too many big things on goal and not giving up too many clean chances. Rimando came up big on goal a couple of times right at the start of the second half to save that Brad Evans goal and then Mario Martinez finally got it to go in. I liked the way we battled. Everyone put everything forward."
On the process of choosing Mario Martinez over Mauro Rosales for tonight's game...
"Well Mauro is getting better. Even today he ran a little bit and did some work and was looking much better. I'm not sure if the first game against LA is going to come in time but for sure the second game. We felt that Mario was a player that close to 90 minutes of fitness based on the game that he played with Honduras and we felt that his passing could help us as well. His ability on set pieces is great and obviously he got a great goal as well."
On the performance of Michael Gspurning...
"Gspurning played great. I have said before that I feel that he should be Keeper of the Year but some people have dismissed that by saying that he was injured for some of the season. I don't know if you get injured you get excluded from awards. He has been a tremendous addition for our team; his height obviously makes it difficult for other teams on corners, but he is just a great keeper. Rimando is a great keeper but Gspurning is right there; you saw two of the best goalkeepers in the league tonight."
On the indispensability of Brad Evans...
"You know, when Brad steps on the field you might not think to yourself that Brad is the smoothest guy or the best player, but what Brad is a warrior. What people don't see from the outside is that he is one that is talking and organizing. At the start of the second half we had to make sure that one of our forwards was covering Beckerman and that was Brad who was doing that. He was getting chances on goal, he was blocking shots, he even had a dead leg at the end of the game. He is just a warrior."
Seattle Sounders FC MF Mario Martinez:
On the game winning goal...
"I feel great that the team was able to finally qualify for the next round of the playoffs. The goals will always give you confidence and it was a great opportunity for me personally and for me to defend the colors of the team."
On getting the chance to start the playoff game after being frustrated on seeing little playing time...
"I was a little frustrated with the idea that I wouldn't get the chance to play but we can't think about that in a game like this. We have to focus on the opportunities that we have. I was a little frustrated personally, but we have to keep on working and not conform with where we are now."
Seattle Sounders FC FW Fredy Montero:
On the chance to play in the conference finals...
"We have never had this chance before, to play in the finals of the conference. We are very excited to play against the Galaxy. We are hungry to get to the final. Hopefully we have a good game in LA and then hopefully we will have the chance to finish it in Seattle. We played hard today and we did what we had to, we just had to score one goal."
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis
Thoughts on one goal being the difference between RSL and Seattle in the Playoffs...
"I don't know you never know what to expect. It could be a situation where it's hard to come by, and then you come to the game and it ends up 3-2. I think again it was a game where there were chances that weren't taken properly for both teams. It's unfortunate that we are on the losing end of that."
Thoughts on being the end of an era...
"We'll see, we'll see."
Thoughts on scoreless game for tonight, and for the past month...
"You have to score goals to win games. It really comes down a pretty simple game, if you don't score goals you're never going to win games. You have got to win to advance."
Thoughts on positive outcome from the match...
"Yeah come on lets be fair, our guys worked so hard for it. Really the whole year for me, extremely proud of this group, extremely proud of the effort they put forth tonight. A lot of good things came out of this year, with numbers of wins and numbers of points, and we broke some records for our club, so there were definitely some positive things that we should remember."
Thoughts on the aura of Rio Tinto Stadium...
"The aura of Rio Tinto... You know I think that we were a very confident team at home. We are a team that gets on the front foot and tries to keep our opponents pinned in for most of the match and I think you saw that again tonight. Seattle was living and dying on the counter, and credit to them they had a game plan and they succeeded with it. I hope that, in the grand scheme of things, everything evens-out and that's just the way I see the game. So nobody misinterpret what I'm saying right now, but I hope that if there is a hundred games played, the team that's willing to risk more, the team that's willing to be more bold, the team that's willing to set the tempo and wanting to set the tempo gets results; but for what I have seen over the past couple of days that's not happening."
Thoughts on the fans...
"Another game where I thought they were incredible. A lot of games that we get through the middle of the second half and we are dying down and the noise level, but not tonight. They were with it from minute one to minute ninety, so we have to appreciate that, we have to continue to try to draw from that."
Thoughts at being 0-0 at halftime, and knowing the wind was going to be there...
"I did, I thought the wind was a real factor, it makes it difficult and plays right into what they are doing, playing so many run-on balls into our box and trying to counter on us. I think it played into what they were doing, so we get to minute 43 I was kind of thinking let's get to halftime 0-0, rather than trying to score that goal right before half, so I thought we had done a good job to get there and I had continued to believe, and I guess I will continue to believe that things will eventually even out and go right for us."
Thoughts on the goalkeepers...
"Unbelievable. Again both goalkeepers played incredibly well. The shot that Rimando saved down to his left was a phenomenal save; Gspurning had a couple of really clutch saves for his team as well. You're going to need that this time of year, you got to have players who will step up and play."
Thoughts on not scoring goals late in the season and the offseason...
"I don't know. I think it's important to try to figure out exactly why you're not scoring those goals. For me again, creating the right number of chances, maybe a few a decisions were wrong in the final third about where the ball needed to go and when it needed to go. I think it's the typical stance that most people would take is that it falls on the forwards, but not for me, no it falls on everybody to create good goal scoring chances and to take goal scoring chances."
Real Salt Lake MF Javier Morales
On how he feels after the loss to Seattle...
"We tried hard and just couldn't. We are sad because we wanted to advance and play in the conference finals, but now we are going home."
On getting fouled on various occasions during the match...
"Yeah, I got fouled a lot. But that is not the problem. The problem is that we couldn't score in the last five matches and you have to score to win a game. Tonight we tried hard but we couldn't again."
Real Salt Lake MF Kyle Beckerman
On not being able to finish...
"It's been a while since we scored. I miss celebrating and all that stuff. We just came up short. We gave everything we've got and put the pressure on them. We created a couple of chances that we needed to and we didn't score."
On how he feels about the season as a whole...
"We had a lot of fun times. At the end of the season there is only going to be one team that is really happy. But, we had a lot of positives this year."
Real Salt Lake MF Will Johnson
On the nature of the MLS Playoff...:
"It's a bit of a crapshoot, it always has been over the years and it is what it is. It's fun and we enjoy playing in these kind of games. There's so much on the line and anyone can get the MLS Cup. Obviously we experienced that ourselves one year."