Skip to content

MLS playoff preview: Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders

Nov 1, 2012, 10:10 PM EDT

FC Dallas v Seattle Sounders Getty Images

Seattle and Real Salt Lake may be playoff fixtures, but each team enters this Major League Soccer postseason with something to prove. Notoriously, Seattle has failed to advance in their three playoff appearances, a record that’s overshadowed the remarkable feat of making the postseason every year of their MLS existence. For RSL, their 2009 title was not only an achievement but a promise. Now, the team is in search of a trophy that will quell the sting of their failed 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League run.

For the second straight season, the teams meet in the Western Conference semifinals, and for the second straight season, a season that began with expectations and promise will end too soon.

Kickoff: 10:00 p.m. Eastern, Friday, CenturyLink Field, NBC Sports Network

Recap of last year’s first leg in Salt Lake | And second in Seattle

On the Seattle Sounders:

  • Memories from last year die hard, which explains why last year’s semifinal has been increasingly pertinent around Seattle. Then, the Sounders opened their postseason with a 3-0 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium, dooming them to another early playoff exit (Real Salt Lake went on to eliminate Seattle, 3-2).
  • Seattle’s made four notable improvements from last year: Goalkeeper of the Year candidate Michael Gspurning is in goal; Swedish international Adam Johannson is at right back; former Bundesliga standout Christian Tiffert augments the midfield; and resurgent U.S. international Eddie Johnson spearheads the attack.
  • Johnson, however, is questionable for Friday’s game, having picked up a hamstring injury Sunday in Los Angeles. If he can’t go, Sammy Ochoa will.

MORE: Still awaiting word on Eddie Johnson

  • With Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales, Seattle’s attack will be potent regardless of Johnson’s health. The defending, however, remains a question. Seattle has the league’s second-best defensive record but is weak defending set pieces, something that will get worse in the absence of Johnson.
  • So if Seattle’s defense is so weak, how are they so good at preventing goals? Much of the credit goes to Gspurning, but don’t under-estimate the contributions of Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans. Whether Evans or Tiffert partner Alonso on Friday, Seattle’s midfield duo to be tested by an RSL diamond that plays notoriously narrow. Whomever gets the call, be prepared for an overload.
  • The bigger concern for Seattle was their inability to win important games. The Sounders went 1-1-1 in their late season Cascadia Cup matches despite the quality of opposition (Vancouver, Portland). A home loss to San Jose knocked them out of the Supporters’ Shield chase, while a defeat in Los Angeles on the season’s last day relegated them to third in the West.

On Real Salt Lake:

  • While Seattle’s made a number of upgrades, Real Salt Lake returns largely the same team that started the first leg of last year’s semifinal. Andy Williams (retirement) and Robbie Russell (D.C. United) have moved on, but with Ned Grabavoy and Tony Beltran, RSL’s no worse off.
  • With Seattle’s trouble on set pieces, Alvaro Saborio could be in for another big series. The Costa Rican international is coming off a 17-goal season and scored the first two against in last year’s semifinal.
  • The key to Real’s attack, however, is Javier Morales. At his best, the Argentine midfielder is the league’s best playmaker. He’ll be Alonso’s number one responsibility.
  • In defense, Real Salt Lake has the league’s best four-some (left-to-right: Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, Beltran), but the central pair has been troubled by Seattle’s tendency to play long and directly at them. Although Fredy Montero isn’t the league’s fastest attacker, the timing of his runs creates problems for RSL’s all-star duo.
  • The last time RSL was in Seattle, they played the Sounders to a 0-0 despite playing an hour up a man. That’d take the same result on Friday, even if this month’s draw was another indication of Real Salt Lake’s troubles playing from the favorite’s perch.

Bottom line:

Seattle’s not only failed to advance in the playoffs, they’ve never scored in a first leg. It’s not a long history (three years), but it’s still symptomatic. Too often, Seattle is passive – more reactive than imposing – an attitude that concedes the initiative despite their superior talent. In the regular season, that approach manifests in disappointing results against Cascadia rivals or letting Ricardo Salazar become something that defines a game. In the playoffs, it leads you to be pacified in the first 90 minutes.

That’s why Seattle finishing third may be a blessing. At home, they’ll come out aggressive, confront their demons, and force RSL onto the back foot. While Real often plays their best under such circumstances, Seattle’s a more talented team this year than last. They have the potential to redeem themselves.

Latest Posts
  1. Lineups out for USMNT vs. Switzerland: Williams, Morales, Shea come in; diamond in midfield

    Mar 31, 2015, 11:16 AM EDT

    Danny Williams 2

    Klinsmann makes changes to team who lost to Denmark, switches up formation.

  2. Three things to look out for as USA take on Switzerland

    Mar 31, 2015, 10:02 AM EDT

    Denmark Soccer USA

    Plenty of intriguing questions surrounding the USMNT picture ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Swiss.

  3. European clubs to share record $2.4 billion pot dished out by UEFA in new deal

    Mar 31, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT

    French UEFA president Michel Platini spe Getty Images

    Top European teams will get extra revenue from Champions League, Europa League from next season.

  4. USMNT vs Switzerland preview: Last time they met, Michael Bradley scored the winner with a full head of hair

    Mar 30, 2015, 11:07 PM EDT

    Switzerland v USA - International Friendly Getty Images

    Maurice Edu and Danny Szetela helped the goal get going, and Bradley was barely more than 20 years old.

  5. WATCH: Aurelien Chedjou and a flying own goal under zero pressure

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:15 PM EDT

    FBL-AFR-2015-MATCH16-CMR-GUI Getty Images

    Fortunately for Chedjou, Cameroon came back to beat Thailand 3-2.

  6. MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 4

    Mar 30, 2015, 9:24 PM EDT

    NE Revolution Vs. San Jose Earthquakes At Gillette Stadium Getty Images

    Lads and ladies, men and women, dudes and dudettes, it’s going to be a bit of an odd week for the MLS Team of the Week here on PST.

  7. Organizers apologize for Salvadoran national anthem mix-up in Washington (video)

    Mar 30, 2015, 8:40 PM EDT

    El Salvador

    The anthem that blared over the loudspeaker happened to belong to Isle of Man, not on-field participants El Salvador.

  8. Missing University of California, Berkeley men’s player Eloi Vasquez confirmed dead

    Mar 30, 2015, 7:46 PM EDT

    Eloi Vasquez

    Reports say he was lost after leaving a fraternity party near the University of Southern California.

  9. MLS Player of the Week — Week 4

    Mar 30, 2015, 7:20 PM EDT

    Kaka AP

    Who claimed the honors for Week 4 in Major League Soccer? The only former Ballon d’Or winner in the league!

  10. NWSL mega deal sends Sydney Leroux Dwyer to WNY for rights to Abby Wambach

    Mar 30, 2015, 6:26 PM EDT

    SRFC_Sydney_Leroux_5_4-23-14

    The Western New York Flash are reaping the rewards of Abby Wambach’s refusal to play ball.

  11. UEFA begins investigation into fan, on-field chaos in Russia/Montenegro match

    Mar 30, 2015, 5:49 PM EDT

    Russia's Igor Akinfeev hit by flare at Montenegro, match later abandoned Getty Images

    Just last week, UEFA president Michel Platini issued concerns over the uptick in hooliganism.

  12. Prolific U.S. U-17 striker chooses club home in NASL

    Mar 30, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    Haji Wright Wearing Cosmos Jersey March 30 2015

    Wright helped the U.S. qualify for this summer’s U-17 World Cup, and recorded 18 goals and 7 assists in 22 games for the side.

  13. WATCH: Andy Najar’s wonder goal helps Honduras into 2015 Gold Cup

    Mar 30, 2015, 4:09 PM EDT

    FBL-CONCACAF-GOLD-CUP-QUALIFIERS-HND-GUF Getty Images

    The tournament begins July 7, with Los Catrachos facing the USMNT in Frisco, Texas.

  14. How will the USMNT line up against Switzerland?

    Mar 30, 2015, 3:27 PM EDT

    USMNT Getty Images

    Few have successfully predicted the erratic USMNT lineups over the last few months, but here’s our best shot.

  15. Agent: Memphis Depay has had no contact with Manchester United

    Mar 30, 2015, 2:29 PM EDT

    Depay Getty Images

    The Dutchman’s agent says he has not spoken with any teams, including the Red Devils.

  16. Former Barcelona star claims he despises Louis van Gaal

    Mar 30, 2015, 1:32 PM EDT

    Stoichkov Getty Images

    A salty relationship between the Bulgarian striker and his Dutch boss led to the “Dream Team” member departing Barcelona a year later.

Featured video

Week 30: Headline PL moment