SEATTLE -- Exhilarating playoff victories to end a season aren't supposed to feel so somber.
Behind a furious second-half rally, Sounders FC beat Real Salt Lake, 2-0, on Wednesday night on goals by Osvaldo Alonso and Lamar Neagle, but it turned out to be a fruitless victory. However exciting, the result wasn't enough to make up a three-goal aggregate deficit coming into the game, as Seattle lost the Western Conference semifinal by an overall 3-2 score over two matches.
RSL had earned a huge 3-0 scoring advantage in the series in the first leg Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium and advances to the Western Conference final Sunday or Monday against either the top-seeded Los Angeles Galaxy or the New York Red Bulls, a wild-card team from the East.
The Sounders have lost in the first round of the playoffs three years in a row, and the odds of a comeback Wednesday were long to start with.
Only one team in MLS history had ever overcome a three-goal deficit in the two-leg playoff series -- the 2003 San Jose Earthquakes.
That didn't keep the home team from making it interesting in front of an impassioned CenturyLink Field crowd of 36,021, though the comeback effort got off to an inauspicious start. Sounders FC lost midfielders Alvaro Fernandez and Brad Evans to first-half injuries and couldn't convert any of its 15 shots or 10 corner kicks before halftime.
Frustrations were relieved in the 56th minute when Alonso converted a penalty kick to get momentum going. The Sounders earned the chance when RSL defender Tony Beltran tugged down forward Mike Fucito in the penalty box.
Seattle drew another goal closer soon after that on a precision left-footed strike by Neagle, a Federal Way product, in the 61st minute.
The Sounders pushed everything forward for a series equalizer. Alonso had an open look in the 78th minute and fired high. Then, a minute later, RSL had a great counterattacking chance through forward Fabian Espindola, but goalkeeper Kasey Keller, in his final game before retirement, came up with a big save to keep his team in it.
With its season on the line, Seattle couldn't create any clear-cut chances in the final minutes.
One miracle short of a comeback for the ages.
--Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid made three changes to the lineup from the 3-0 defeat Saturday -- Fucito replaced Sammy Ochoa at forward, Zach Scott started in place of James Riley in defense and Erik Friberg supplanted Neagle in midfield.
--Fernandez was replaced by Neagle in the 14th minute after injuring his left hamstring. Evans hurt his right ankle and was replaced by Roger Levesque in the 21st minute.
--Salt Lake's defense came into the game short-handed. Star center-backs Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers were each unavailable after suffering quad injuries Saturday. RSL had played just 117 minutes in the past four years without at least one of them in the lineup.
--Seattle finished the season 16-6-4 at home in all competitions -- MLS (regular season and playoffs), U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League.
--Perhaps RSL's greatest moment came in Seattle, when it won the 2009 MLS Cup here against the Los Angeles Galaxy in a penalty-kick shootout.
--Wednesday marked the eighth-highest attended MLS playoff game and highest attended for a non-final.
--The Sounders are 1-4-1 overall in playoff games and have been outscored 7-3.