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Mario’s Golazo a Worthy Way to Win an Epic Tie – Seattle Post Intelligencer (blog)

What an absolutely unbelievable night last night was.

The tension in this game was incredible. Unbearable, really. Both teams battling hard, creating chances, unable to make the breakthrough. Everyone wondering who would be the first one to crack.

In the event, the only ‘crack’ was the sound of the ball flying off Mario’s boot into the far corner. A perfect strike. And with it, the end of our playoff hoodoo. Finally, we proved we can win in the postseason.

Psychologically, I don’t think you can over-estimate how significant a moment this was for the franchise. With every passing playoff failure, the doubts about the direction of the franchise grow. To have had another failure would have been disastrous.

Oops.

Jason Kreis was less than magnanimous in his postgame interview:

“Seattle was living and dying on the counter, and credit to them they had a game plan and they succeeded with it. I hope that, in the grand scheme of things, everything evens out, and that’s just the way I see the game. So nobody misinterpret what I’m saying right now, but I hope that if there is a hundred games played, the team that’s willing to risk more, the team that’s willing to be more bold, the team that’s willing to set the tempo and wanting to set the tempo gets results; but for what I have seen over the past couple of days that’s not happening.”

Frankly, the hypocrisyof this statement is staggering. Every time RSL come to Seattle, they play with a negative gameplan and do everything they can to disrupt the flow of the game. I certainly don’t remember them playing ‘bold’ soccer in the second half on Friday night. In truth, Kreis was venting because he knows he has a problem now. With no CCL next year, they lose allocation money. They’re going to have to lose players, which they may have had to do anyway, given how old they are getting. But probably more significant, he knows that his team were distinctly second best in this series. Had it not been for the miracles performed by Nick Rimando, this tie would have been over long before Mario swung at that ball. Jason Kreis knows that there’s a new contender in the Western Conference now, and that this is only the beginning.

In truth, the second half last night was by far our weakest 45 minutes of the series. In the first half, I thought we did a good job of not letting RSL get too near our goal, and put some good spells of possession together. After the break, however, I think we got a bit too excited about having the wind in our faces, knocking too many balls over the top for Montero and Johnson to chase, which only served to give the ball back to RSL. We were sloppy in general possession too. One thing that was constant throughout the 180 minutes, however, was the way our midfield competed with their illustrious RSL counterparts, a key factor that was very much missing in the first leg of last year’s series. And our defense was magnificent. It wasn’t always pretty, but they put bodies in front of every ball.

Parke and Hurtado were magnificent in this series (pic: Denise McCooey)

And then there was Martinez. To be honest, I was stunned that Sigi started Mario last night. I fully expected to see Andy Rose come in if Rosales couldn’t go, being a stronger defensive player and one who has had more minutes playing with our first choice line-up. Sigi is generally a pretty cautious coach. But he made the brave choice, and it paid off handsomely, not just with the goal, but also with a very disciplined defensive performance. Very impressive for a young player making his first start.

I’ll be honest – I’ve been critical of how Sigi has handled our ‘left side of midfield’ problem since Fernandez left. To me, it seemed like he didn’t have a great plan for replacing Fernandez. We always knew that Martinez was going to be away on World Cup Qualifying duty for much of the regular season, so if that was an issue for us (and clearly it was), then he was never the first option. Zakuani didn’t look fit in his stint in the team, and Evans isn’t nearly as good out wide as he is in the middle. I still think we should have given Martinez more minutes in the regular season so that he was more integrated in the first eleven, but obviously, it worked out last night so it’s difficult to be too critical. It sounds like Rosales isn’t going to be ready for Sunday, so we will likely get another opportunity to see him start down in LA.

One thing seems very clear – we pulled off a masterstroke getting Martinez before he tore it up at the London Olympics. There aren’t too many players in this league who could have scored the goal that he scored last night. Between that and his goals for Honduras, it seems clear that this guy is an impressive talent.

So now we move onto LA. This will likely be an entirely different kind of series to the RSL one – pretty unlikely that we will have to wait 170 minutes for a goal in this one. LA are loaded going forward, of course, and Robbie Keane is on fire at the moment. But defensively, even with Omar Gonzalez back, they still look surprisingly vulnerable. Even in their impressive win in San Jose on Wednesday night, they gave up an awful lot of clear-cut chances to the Earthquakes. We saw a similar trend in our regular season finale in LA two weeks ago, when both sides created a hatful of chances. It should be an exciting series.

Regardless of what happens against LA, though, beating RSL was a very significant moment. To me, this team looks like a genuine title contender for the first time. Unlike in previous years, we no longer look soft in the middle of the park when the going gets tough. The addition of Christian Tiffert is, in my opinion, a huge factor in this. With him in there, we have a steel and composure that we lacked before. Last night was a great night for this club, and I’m sure Mario’s goal will live long in the memories of all of us.

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