SANDY, Utah – As the final whistle sounded on the Sounders FC’s 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake to send them through to the Western Conference Championship for the first time in four years in Major League Soccer, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid wrapped his arms around his exuberant assistant coach Brian Schmetzer.
The emotion of three efforts in the playoffs that had come up empty spilled over in a single moment of jubilation as the Sounders slayed the demon that had haunted them in their first three seasons.
“Elation. Joy. Happiness,” Schmid said. “I’m really pleased for the team because it’s a big hurdle to overcome for them.”
The scenario was a familiar one for the Sounders, too. In 2009, they fought to a scoreless draw in the first leg of their series with the Houston Dynamo only to see a Brian Ching goal in overtime end their magical run in their inaugural season.
In 2010, they fell behind 1-0 at home against the LA Galaxy, then dropped the series 3-1. Last year, a 3-0 defeat in the first leg on the road against Real Salt Lake proved too tough a hill to climb as the Sounders pulled two goals back but couldn’t find the equalizer and ended their season in the Western Conference Semifinals yet again.
On Thursday, those demons were exorcised as they advanced on a majestic shot by Mario Martinez, putting Seattle up 1-0 while goalkeeper Michael Gspurning held off a last-minute flurry from Salt Lake to finish the night with a career-high nine saves.
The players had a quick response to the whistle too. Celebrating together, then turning to the northeast corner of the stadium to salute the Sounders FC supporters that traveled to Utah for the match.
“This feels amazing. Four years, we’ve been working to get this. I’m happy for my teammates. We did great today,” said midfielder Osvaldo Alonso who has played in all eight Sounders FC playoff matches.
Added midfielder Brad Evans, “It’s a monkey off the back. It’s pretty emotional. Guys poured their hearts out in the game and that’s what it’s going to take. We take what we did in these two games and we move on.”
The Sounders have no time to celebrate their success though. The Western Conference Championship starts on Sunday.
“We ran to the fans to say thanks for all the support through the years. But when we got back to the locker room we have another game to play and nothing is done yet,” said forward Fredy Montero. “We want to keep moving on to the final.”
They will move on to face the Galaxy, who finished fourth in the Western Conference in 2012 after winning the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in 2011.
Now with a playoff series win under their belts, the Sounders will face Los Angeles with a newfound confidence in the two-leg series.
“We needed to get over this hump and winning this game is really important for our development as a team,” Schmid said. “The setbacks in year’s past have fueled this. Getting over this hurdle today will do oodles for our confidence and will really help us as we go on to the next series.”
Tickets for the Western Conference Championship match on November 18 at CenturyLink Field are now on sale through SoundersFC.com or by calling 800-745-3000.
Seattle will play the LA Galaxy in the first leg of the series at The Home Depot Center on Sunday. Both matches will be broadcast on ESPN.