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Real Salt Lake gets a scare, while MLS Cup holders fizzle

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Canadian midfielder Will Johnson will play in the MLS Western Conference Final; but his Real Salt Lake had to survive a furious charge from the Seattle Sounders.

Holding a 3-0 lead over the Sounders after the first leg of the conference final, RSL was all but assured a spot in the next round. But, in front of a raucous crowd in ah-so-stereotypical Pacific Northwest drizzle, the Sounders came oh so close to a comeback for the MLS history books on Wednesday night. In the end, the aggregate score was 3-2 RSL, but Seattle scuffed some chances and had what looked to be a sure goal cleared away from danger.

Johnson’s Real Salt Lake crew was without two of its defensive linchpins – Javier Morales and Nat Borchers — both injured in the first leg.

Tony Beltran, brought into the lineup, may go down as the hero of the series. In the first half, after a scramble in the RSL penalty area, Seattle’s Jeff Parke smacked a ball towards an open goal; but Beltran dove and got his head to the ball, deflecting it away from the target. In the final analysis, it is that defensive stand that prevented disaster.

Beltran would conceded an early second-half penalty, which was converted by Osvalo Alonso. But the fact that he got tangled with Mike Fucito in a crowded penalty area shouldn’t diminish the significance of the clearance. With that ball off the head, there was a clear message to Seattle — that it’s just not going to go your way.

By the 60th minute, Lamar Neagle had chopped the deficit to one goal. The Sounders kept possession and kept up the pressure. But they couldn’t get the equalizer. The closes they came was a scramble that ended with Alonso blazing an effort well over the bar.

Still, for a series that looked to be over after game one, the second match turned out to be far closer than any RSL fan would have liked.

It was in stark contrast to the first game of Wednesday evening. Already holding a 2-0 lead over a fatigued, depleted Colorado Rapids squad, Sporting Kansas City made easy work of the defending champs in the second match. Another 2-0 victory, with Graham Zusi setting up both goals — both crosses that were headed home by Aurelien Collin and C.J. Sapong, respectively.

SKC knows it will host the Eastern final, and Colorado’s elimination finishes a disappointing season.

In 2010, Colorado beat FC Dallas in the first MLS Cup held on Canadian soil. Both teams were cursed in 2011; FCD lost MVP David Ferreira, the Rapids lost perennial top-three scorer Conor Casey. Both teams were eliminated in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, and both made early playoff exits.

Not much of a legacy for the 2010 MLS Cup.

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