SEATTLE – With second-half goals from Oswaldo Alonso and Lamar Neagle, the Seattle Sounders nearly pulled off the impossible at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday night in a frantic attempt to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit. But in the end, the all-important third didn’t arrive.
And despite the 2-0 second-leg loss, Real Salt Lake side held on for a 3-2 aggregate victory and advance to Sunday’s Western Conference Championship.
A makeshift RSL squad, missing both regular center backs Jámison Olave and Nat Borchers to injury, fought valiantly to hold off the Sounders’ desperate attempts at a comeback. Seattle were in and around the penalty area for the entire match, outshooting the visitors 17-4 on the night.
Seattle’s offense looked much more threatening than it did in the first leg in Utah, but the early momentum was stemmed by a pair of early injuries. Álvaro Fernández came off in the 14th minute with a hamstring injury, and Brad Evans suffered the same fate seven minutes later.
The Real Salt Lake defense may not have looked commanding, but it weathered the early storm. With Olave and Borchers out, Chris Wingert and Chris Schuler started in the middle for Jason Kreis’ team. The visitors made it out of the first half without allowing a goal, thanks in large part to a fantastic goal line headed save from Tony Beltran on Jeff Parke’s volley in the 36th minute.
The Sounders resumed their pressure in the second half, and finally found their opening in the 54th minute when Beltran pulled down Mike Fucito in the box by his shoulder. Alonso converted the resulting penalty kick with a low shot down the middle to bring the aggregate score to 3-1.
Seven minutes later, Neagle first-timed a pass from Fredy Montero low into the far corner past Nick Rimando, bringing the aggregate series to 3-2, and whipping the 36,052 fans in attendance into a frenzy.
With the RSL defense teetering, Seattle continued to push forward, with Neagle and Alonso each shooting over the bar from inside the penalty area. In the 76th minute, Kreis brought on midfielder Yordany Álvarez for Álvaro Saborío to help reinforce his defensive tactics.
RSL almost stole one back against the run of play in the 79th minute, when an Erik Friberg turnover led to a chance for Fabián Espíndola. But Kasey Keller made a reaction save from close range to keep Seattle in the game.
But in the end, Seattle could not find the final goal and RSL put hopes of a Sounders miracle to bed. Salt Lake now await the winner of the LA-New York series; they’ll travel to the Home Depot Center on Sunday for the Western Conference Championship if the Galaxy advance, or they’ll host if the Red Bulls pull out victory.
Wednesday’s result also brought an official end to the career of US national team legend Keller, who was playing in his final season with the Sounders.
SEA -- Osvaldo Alonso 1 (penalty kick) 56
SEA -- Lamar Neagle 1 (Fredy Montero 1, Osvaldo Alonso 1) 61
RSL -- Tony Beltran (caution; Tactical Foul) 55
RSL -- Nick Rimando (caution; Delaying a Restart) 56
SEA -- Roger Levesque (caution; Reckless Tackle) 62
SEA -- Leo Gonzalez (caution; Reckless Tackle) 92+
Real Salt Lake -- Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran, Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson, Andy Williams (Ned Grabavoy 57), Javier Morales (Luis Gil 89), Alvaro Saborio (Yordany Alvarez 76), Fabian Espindola.
Substitutes Not Used: Paulo Araujo Jr., Rauwshan McKenzie, Collen Warner, Kyle Reynish.
Seattle Sounders -- Kasey Keller, Zach Scott, Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez, Brad Evans (Roger Levesque 21), Osvaldo Alonso, Erik Friberg, Alvaro Fernandez (Lamar Neagle 14), Mike Fucito (Sammy Ochoa 76), Fredy Montero.
Substitutes Not Used: Nate Jaqua, James Riley, Tyson Wahl, Bryan Meredith.
Referee: Jair Marrufo
Referee's Assistants: Corey Rockwell; C.J. Morgante
4th Official: Jasen Anno
Time of Game: 1:58
Weather: Rain and 49 degrees