[MLS PLAYOFFS: Seattle-Real Salt Lake] Seattle's desperate attempt to overturn a three-goal deficit from the first leg of their conference semifinal series against Real Salt Lake fell just short. The 2-0 victory at CenturyLink Field Wednesday night sent RSL through on a 3-2 aggregate to play either New York or Los Angeles on Sunday.
LINEUP DECISIONS. Quadriceps injuries to centerbacks Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers left Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis with limited options. Chris Schuler, who replaced Olave in the first leg, started in the middle alongside Chris Wingert, the team’s starting left back for the past few seasons who played in the middle at St. John’s University.
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid decided to leave Mauro Rosales, who re-injured his strained MCL in the regular-season finale against Chivas USA, out of the lineup. He needed to use two substitutes in the first half, when hamstring injuries knocked out Alvaro Fernandez and Brad Evans. They were replaced, respectively, by Lamar Neagle and Roger Levesque.
BIG SAVE. RSL goalie Nick Rimando recorded six saves as Seattle pounded out a 17-4 advantage in shots, yet the most important save came off the head of RSL’s Tony Beltran, who got the start at left back when Kreis moved Wingert into the middle.
In the 36th minute, defender Jeff Parke hit a searing shot on goal that Beltran, dropping back to cover the net with goalie Nick Rimando out of position, diverted with his head by leaning, off-balance, into the shot’s path. Parke fell to his knees and teammates held their faces in disbelief at Beltran's amazing feat.
BREAKTHROUGH. The Sounders’ chances of pulling off a remarkable turnaround could have been enhanced with a first-half goal but despite piling on pressure in a driving rain, the first half ended, 0-0. Without Fernandez and Rosales, Fredy Montero and Erik Friberg drove the attack and neither found his best shooting form. Friberg skied two shots from medium range and while Montero played a more aggressive and prominent role than he had in the first leg, he also labored.
Seattle’s waves of attacks paid off early in the second half when Betran dragged down Mike Fucito in the box and Osvaldo Alsonso drove his penalty kick under Rimando. Seven minutes later, with half an hour still to play, Neagle placed a feed from Montero into the bottom corner beyond Rimando to fuel a frenzied celebration from the crowd of 36,021 fans.
FAREWELL. Kasey Keller, playing in what turned out to be his last professional match, kept Seattle in the game with a solid block of Fabian Espindola’s blast in the 79th minute. The power of the shot knocked Keller off balance but his hand on the ball to force it over the crossbar and maintain the one-goal difference on aggregate. It was Keller’s only save of the night. With placards and posters bearing his name and No. 18 dotting most of the sections, he marked the last dance with a memorable moment for his hometown team.
AFTERMATH. At the start of the season, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said that in this third year of his tenure he expected to win MLS Cup. Injuries to Steve Zakuani, O’Brian White and Rosales significantly impaired the Sounders, which nevertheless won the U.S. Open Cup for a third straight year and qualified for the Champions League quarterfinals. That would seem sufficient reason for another shot, but no matter who coaches in 2012, filling that hole in goal is job one.