TUSCON, Ariz. – The Sounders FC will play 13 regular season MLS matches on national television.
However, their fans won’t need to wait that long before they see the club playing in a nationally televised broadcast as the Sounders topped Real Salt Lake, 2-1, on Saturday to clinch a spot in the Desert Diamond Cup final on Saturday, February 23 at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Mario Martinez didn’t waste any time getting re-acclimated with his teammates, scoring the first goal for the Sounders, then non-roster forward Phillip Lund added a second. Salt Lake got one back off the boot of John Stertzer, but Seattle held off their efforts at a comeback and sealed a berth in the final with still one match to play.
“It’s good to have Mario Martinez back. He scored a fantastic goal, very reminiscent of the goal he scored in Salt Lake,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Winning games is always better than not winning games and I’m pleased with how the team is going.”
The first half was a typical Seattle-Salt Lake clash, with few true scoring opportunities to be had as the chess game between the two sides grinded away the first 45 minutes.
The scoreless halftime score could easily be foreseen, as the last six matches between the Sounders and Salt Lake resulted in empty first-half scorelines.
Schmid went to his bench for the second half, with eight players starting the second half who didn’t start the match. That new corpse included Martinez, who just arrived in Tucson on Friday after a busy start to the new year for him that has seen him play five matches for Honduras in the Copa Centroamericana and a World Cup qualifying match against the US National Team.
In the 65th minute, Martinez worked his magic. The 23-year-old midfielder collected the ball at the top of the box, pulling it down with his left foot, then curled it in with his left foot inside the far post for the 1-0 lead.
Martinez wasn’t done though, helping to set up the second goal for Seattle when he played the ball for Osvaldo Alonso for a shot that was blocked, but the ball spilled to Lund to knock it home for the goal and a 2-0 lead in the 71st minute.
In the 86th minute, Salt Lake pulled one back when a shot form Khari Stephenson caromed to John Stertzer for a tap-in opportunity to narrow the margin to 2-1.
It wasn’t Salt Lake’s first scoring chance though. In the 63rd minute Kyle Beckerman led Alvaro Saborio up the left side and Saborio got a clean shot away, but couldn’t find his angle and found the side-netting. In the 88th minute, Stertzer got his head to a ball from Cole Grossman, but missed high and the Sounders held on for the win.
Seattle will face the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, then second-division Mexican side Veracruz on Friday before the tournament final on Saturday, which will be televised live on NBC Sports.
Sounders FC – Mario Martinez 65; Phillip Lund 71.
Real Salt Lake – John Stertzer 86.
Sounders FC – None.
Real Salt Lake – Chris Schuler (caution) 20; Kenny Mansally (caution) 34.
Sounders FC – Michael Gspurning (Josh Ford 60), Adam Johansson (DeAndre Yedlin 38), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Ashani Fairclough 46), Zach Scott (Eriq Zavaleta 71), Leo Gonzalez (Dylan Remick 46), Mauro Rosales (Mario Martinez 46), Osvaldo Alonso (Servando Carrasco 71), Brad Evans (Andy Rose 46), Steve Zakuani (Alex Caskey 46), David Estrada (Phillip Lund 46, Babayele Sodade 71), Eddie Johnson (Sammy Ochoa 46).
Real Salt Lake – Nick Rimando (Lalo Fernandez 75), Tony Beltran (Lovel Palmer 75), Chris Schuler (Aaron Maund 75), Kwame Watson-Siriboe (Carlos Salcedo 75), Kenny Mansally (Rich Balchan 75), Kyle Beckerman (Enzo Martinez 75), Yordany Alvarez (Khari Stephenson 46), Sebastian Velasquez (Cole Grossman 75), Ned Grabavoy (John Stertzer 75), Alvaro Saborio (Devon Sandoval 75), Joao Plata (David Viana 58).