Friday, November 9, 2012

Super Mario sends the Sounders to the Western Conference final

By Money Mike

The Seattle Sounders have finally gotten the monkey off their back. Last night, the Rave Green came into the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals knowing that they needed to win in order to avoid a fourth straight early round exit, and that's exactly what they did. The Sounders defeated Real Salt Lake 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on a stunner in the late stages of the game by Mario Martinez to advance to the Western Conference final where they will meet the Defending MLS Cup Champion Los Angeles Galaxy. The Conference final will also be a Home-and-Away series with the first leg taking place this Sunday at 6pm at the Home Depot Center and the second leg next Sunday at 6pm at CenturyLink Field.

In the 10th minute, Alvaro Saborio sent Ned Grabavoy in behind with a nice ball. The angle was tight however, and Michael Gspurning had the near post covered all the way and made an easy save.

Eight minutes later, RSL had a better look at goal. As a matter of fact, they had an opportunity that they should've capitalized on. Kenny Mansally delivered a great ball into the middle of the area. Paulo Jr. looked to have been offside at the time of the delivery, but he should've scored. There is no excuse for missing a golden opportunity like that one right there. Again, Mansally put that ball right where it needed to be and Paulo Jr. at the last second loses his concentration and let's it bounce off his knee and wide of target.

In the 31st minute, the Sounders had a free kick opportunity from a dangerous position. Everyone thought Fredy Montero was going to take the kick, but instead he stepped over the ball and forced the RSL wall to break which gave Mario Martinez a clear shot on goal and Nick Rimando who was the hero in the first leg, comes up huge once again as he got a fingertip to the ball to direct it off the crossbar. The Sounders had so many opportunities back in the first game and if it hadn't been for Rimando, the Sounders probably would've had at least four or five goals up to that point.

10 minutes later, RSL had a free kick opportunity of their own. Javier Morales stepped up and curled the free kick over the wall but it was too central and didn't test Michael Gspurning. That was the last opportunity of the half and the score remained as you were at 0-0.

Less than 30 seconds into the second half, the Sounders were denied again. Seattle worked the ball out wide to Christian Tiffert who whipped in a low ball into the area. An attempted clearance by Kyle Beckerman was fluffed at and the ball bounced to Brad Evans for a first time hit and Nick Rimando got down and parried it away.

On to the 61st minute of the match, the Sounders dodged a huge bullet on a free kick. RSL are a dangerous set piece team with big guys like Saborio, Olave, Borchers, etc. Javier Morales's free kick was aimed at Borchers and the ball almost bounced all the way into the net as Michael Gspurning alertly parried the ball away. Seconds later, Kyle Beckerman chipped the ball back into the box for Borchers, but Adam Johansson had him contained all the way and Borchers couldn't control the ball properly.

With 15 minutes to go, another RSL chance goes begging. Eddie Johnson's pass for Brad Evans was too hot to control and Seattle lost possession in their own area. Ned Grabavoy fed the ball to Fabian Espindola who poked it back to Saborio for a first time shot from about 20 yards away, but he didn't get enough power on it and Michael Gspurning made yet another save.

In the 81st minute, the deadlock was finally broken and it was the Men in Rave Green who got the goal. Ozzie Alonso stepped in to intercept a pass from Jamison Olave. Brad Evans worked a give and go with Eddie Johnson in the midfield to get the attack going for Seattle. Evans fed the ball to Fredy Montero in the middle of the field and about a few yards outside the box. Montero then chipped the ball to the far side for Mario Martinez who catches it on a half volley with his left foot and scores and absolute beauty to give the Sounders a 1-0 advantage. Martinez was given the start after Mauro Rosales was ruled out with an injury and what a time for him to get his first Sounders FC goal.

In the 89th minute, Michael Gspurning comes up with a big save. Javier Morales's cross to the near post found the head of Alvaro Saborio who directed it goalwards and Gspurning stood his ground and punched the ball over the bar. The Sounders had everyone back defending the rest of the way. Five minutes were added on to the end of the second half. The Sounders had an opportunity at one point in stoppage time to get a second from Eddie Johnson but he didn't get enough power on his shot. With about two and a half minutes left in stoppage time, another big defensive play help prevent yet another opportunity at an equalizer. Jonny Steele's cross deflects off the head of Adam Johansson toward the six yard area and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado stepped in and got a foot to the ball, otherwise Alvaro Saborio and Nat Borchers were there to tap the ball in the back of the net. That was the last chance of the match and the Seattle Sounders hang on and advance to the Western Conference final for the first time in franchise history.


I think the Sounders backline deserves a lot of credit. Despite the fact that they were put under a lot of pressure, they were strong enough to hold their ground. Jeff Parke and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado made things really difficult for Alvaro Saborio, Paulo Jr. and also Fabian Espindola who came on as a substitute in the 2nd half. I think people have overlooked this backline saying that they're not that good. They've had a great second half of the season since the return of Michael Gspurning and they have two clean sheets this postseason. So I'm not worried at all about the backline, and I don't think anybody should worry about the backline. They've been solid lately and their confidence must be high leading up to the conference final against LA.

Now, there have been a lot of tweets and Facebook posts regarding Marc Burch's inappropriate gesture which appeared to be directed at RSL midfielder Will Johnson. Nobody could hear what he said, but apparently a few people may have read his lips. He issued an apology to all of MLS earlier today. Here's what he posted on Facebook earlier today.....

"I want to let everyone know that I apologize for my horrific choice of words last night during our match. This is something that is inconsistent with my family values and because of that I am both disappointed and embarrassed by my level of poor judgment. I take seriously my role as a leader in the community and this is completely regrettable and unacceptable. Character matters and I hope through hard work on and off the field to begin earning your respect and trust again."

Personally I'm glad he stood up and apologized for his actions last night. We had a similar situation back in March in a match between Seattle and Houston when Houston midfielder Colin Clark used a homophobic slur which was directed at a Sounders ball boy and was suspended for three matches. I was expecting a two match ban at the least for Burch, but the MLS disciplinary committee hasn't done anything about it which would mean that Burch would be allowed to play this Sunday. I understand this is the playoffs and we can't afford to lose anybody, but honestly I think there should've been a suspension and the fact that there's nothing is a bit shocking because it appears MLS will let him slide.

The Sounders didn't put together their best offensive performance in the second leg, but the only thing that matters is who scored the most goals in a match and just so happened to be the Sounders. What a moment for GM Adrian Hanauer, Head Coach Sigi Schmid, Assistant Coach Brian Schmetzer and the rest of the Sounders FC organization to get their first playoff series win in MLS after early round exits their first three seasons. To go on the road and finally pull it off is a big moment for the Sounders and their fans. Before the start of the second leg, there were hardly any concerns about this team despite drawing the first leg at home because the fans kept believing in this team and that trend has to continue next round. I can't wait for the series, it's going to be a good one and I think the Sounders will be ready to come out give their full 90' like they've always done.

Scoring summary:

Seattle Sounders FC - Mario Martinez 1 (Fredy Montero 1, Brad Evans 1) 81'

Seattle Sounders FC advance 1-0 on aggregate.

Misconduct summary:

Seattle Sounders FC - Osvaldo Alonso (caution; foul) 51'


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'); Eddie Johnson, Fredy Montero (David Estrada 89')

Real Salt Lake - Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran (Luis Gil 85'), Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, Kenny Mansally (Jonny Steele 86'); Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson; Alvaro Saborio, Paulo Jr. (Fabian Espindola 58')

1 comment:

  1. Just got word today that Burch will be suspended for three games. So he will miss the rest of the playoffs and the 2013 season opener (should the Sounders fail to reach the MLS Cup final).