Otto Greule Jr
Michael Gspurning put in another spectacular performance, keeping a clean sheet as Mario Martinez fired the Seattle Sounders past Real Salt Lake, and into the Western Conference finals.
Through some act that is not of this world, Real Salt Lake have been shut out by the Seattle Sounders in their Western Conference semifinal series. Nick Rimando stole the show with his performance in the first leg -- as well as in the three regular season matches between the two teams -- but Michael Gspurning came out on top of their final duel, as Seattle won by a 1-0 aggregate score to advance to the Western Conference final.
Mario Martinez was Seattle's hero, scoring an incredible goal late in the second half on Thursday night. Picking up a great chipped pass out wide by Fredy Montero, Martinez hit a stellar volley with his first touch that screamed past Rimando into the far corner. As good as RSL's goalkeeper had been over the last four-plus games against Seattle, there was nothing that he could do to stop the shot.
Up until that point, the match was a very chippy one with a number of good half-chances, but nothing too clear-cut. The first half's highlight wasn't a chance on goal or a brilliant save, but an inadvertent elbow to the head of Christian Tiffert that caused him to bleed profusely. Later in the game, RSL's Tony Beltran suffered a similar fate, though with less blood.
Rimando made the game's best save just after halftime, denying an impressive effort by Brad Evans that came from outside of the box, but Gspurning had to make the higher volume of quality saves on the night. His best spell came in the 62nd minute, when he was forced into back-to-back saves on Javier Morales and Nat Borchers.
Martinez's goal came in the 81st minute, after a solid sustained period of pressure by RSL. Evans and Montero created it on the break after a turnover in midfield, setting up Martinez for the magnificent finish.
Though RSL pushed forward with desperation after the goal, they only came up with one great scoring chance in the final nine minutes, plus stoppage time. Gspurning made his best save of the night in the 90th minute, when he tipped a powerful header by Alvaro Saborio over the crossbar. The hosts never came close to equalizing in stoppage time, as Seattle held on for the win.
The Sounders will now make their first ever trip to the Western Conference final. They head to Los Angeles this weekend to face the Galaxy before hosting the second leg of the series in the middle of the week.