SEATTLE (AP) — After nearly an hour playing down a man, Michael Gspurning wasn't about to see Seattle lose a needed point in the closing moments.
Gspurning made two crucial saves in the final seconds, and Real Salt Lake was unable to take advantage of playing the final 60 minutes with an extra player in a 0-0 draw with the Sounders on Wednesday night in a potential MLS Cup playoff preview.
Seattle played the final hour of the match down a man after defender Zach Scott was issued a second yellow card and sent off in the 30th minute. Scott was issued his second card for a reckless tackle on Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales.
"That's a really long time to play without a man but we showed great character today," Gspurning said. "I think at the end of the day because we took the result, it's good for us because we have seen something that the team has character and it's a perfect moment right before the playoffs to have a game like this."
There were very few scoring chances in the match, but Gspurning salvaged the draw for the Sounders in the final moments. He first punched Chris Schuler's left-footed shot wide of the goal, then off a scramble in the box kept Sebastian Velasquez's shot that deflected off Seattle's Andy Rose out of the net.
"I was able to take a good touch, it was on frame and almost went in," Schuler said. "It was going in until he got a hand on it."
The sides remained separated by three points in the Western Conference standings, but Seattle has an extra game remaining and the chance at three additional points in the playoff race.
Seattle (53 points) hosts FC Dallas on Sunday then closes the regular season on Oct. 28 at Los Angeles. Salt Lake (56 points) closes its season on Oct. 27 hosting Vancouver.
If the sides finish tied on points, the first tiebreaker in playoff seeding is total goals scored where Seattle holds a slight advantage.
The Sounders are also closely looking behind at Los Angeles, who is fourth, three points back of Seattle.
"I'm also a bit of a perfectionist, and say to be up a man for 60-odd minutes, we probably should have scored a goal and win the game," said RSL coach Jason Kreis, whose side is unbeaten in its past four regular-season matches in Seattle.
"I thought we had some nice chances, especially late in the second half. Maybe on a different night, we walk out of here with all three points and feel fantastic about it."
Both teams were thinned by World Cup qualifiers. Seattle played without leading scorer Eddie Johnson after he went nearly the entire match in the U.S. national team's 3-1 win over Guatemala on Tuesday night. They were also minus midfielder Mario Martinez (Honduras) and defender Adam Johansson (Sweden) following their international duties.
Salt Lake was without leading scorer Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica) and midfielder Will Johnson (Canada). But the two RSL players coming back from duty with the U.S., midfielder Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando, both started. Beckerman and Rimando did not play in the two U.S. victories over Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala.
"Those guys were missed, but that doesn't take away from the effort everyone else gave us tonight," Kreis said.
Scott's second yellow from referee Ricardo Salazar came when he took down Morales about 35 yards from the net. It was clearly a foul on Scott, but Salazar believed it was excessive and Seattle was left with just 10 men.
Salazar was already the subject of significant Seattle ire after calls he made in the U.S. Open Cup final that Sporting Kansas City won in a penalty shootout over the Sounders. Salazar received more complaints when just before the halftime whistle, Seattle was begging for a handball in the box on Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran but no call was made. Replays confirmed the ball hit Beltran in the chest.
That didn't stop Seattle coach Sigi Schmid from criticizing Salazar during halftime saying it's "nightmare" for Seattle when he officiates.
Schmid was more diplomatic after the match.
"I don't want any more questions about Salazar, but the thing is, our fans know his name," he said. "I don't think many fans know the name of the referee. I think that's an indication."