SANDY, Utah -- The Seattle Sounders got the playoff monkey off their backs as they defeated Real Salt Lake 1-0 (1-0 aggregate) in front of a partisan crowd of 19,657 at Rio Tinto Stadium. Years of frustration were erased in a split second as Mario Martinez scored a wondergoal in the 81st minute to win it for the visitors.
The early minutes belonged mostly to Salt Lake and it generated the early chances. Ned Grabavoy had a good one in the 10th minute but Michael Gspurning saved well. And in the 19th, Paulo Jr. nearly slid one in at the near post but he missed just wide. Seattle had its best chance of the first half hour in the 17th minute after capitalizing on a turnover, but Christian Tiffert's shot just missed the far post.
The best chance of the half, though, belonged to Seattle. The Sounders were awarded a free kick 25 yards from goal in the 31st minute. Mario Martinez put a well-taken shot toward Nick Rimando's left top corner, but Rimando just got a finger on it and deflected it off the crossbar.
In the 40th minute Real nearly got on the board off a Javier Morales dead ball. He managed to get it over the wall and down, but Gspurning was well-positioned to make the save and preserve the deadlock.
The second half started with a bang for Seattle. Just seconds after the opening kickoff, Seattle worked it into RSL's box where Kyle Beckerman attempted to clear his lines. But his clearance rolled right to Brad Evans, who ripped a scorcher on goal. But Rimando, as he was throughout the entire series, was the hero and made a scintillating reaction save to preserve the draw.
But Salt Lake rebounded and started creating more chances of its own. In the 62nd minute Morales nearly scored from 60 yards as he whipped in a long free kick that sailed just over everybody in the box but was destined for the goal. Gspurning made an outstanding reaction save, diving to his left to deny what would have been an unbelievably fortunate goal. Minutes later, Nat Borchers got on the end of a cross but all he could do was chest it into Gspurning's arms.
By the 70th minute RSL had Seattle far back on their heels but still couldn't convert. Alvaro Saborio had several great runs on goal but either couldn't connect on the final touch or was undone by some tidy Sounders defending.
But Seattle persevered and finally put its stamp on the game in the 81st minute. In the center of the pitch, Fredy Montero took a pass from the right wing and hit a cross to the left side of the box to Martinez. The Honduran struck a beautiful volley out of the air with his first touch that flew past the outstretched arms of the diving Rimando and into the net to put Seattle up 1-0 with just 10 minutes to play.
From then on it was all RSL as they desperately searched for the equalizer, but as was often the case for Salt Lake in 2012, it couldn't find it.
With its resounding win, Seattle now goes on to face the LA Galaxy in the Western Conference finals.
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