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. VOTE: Where will Manchester United finish in the Premier League this season?

    Aug 27, 2014, 9:12 AM EDT

    louis_van_gaal AP

    Have you say on where van Gaal’s side will finish this campaign.

  2. Confirmed: Neil Warnock takes over at Crystal Palace; what will he bring?

    Aug 27, 2014, 8:46 AM EDT

    warnock-4361-1879034_478x359

    Eagles swoop to hand former boss his second stint in charge at Selhurst Park.

  3. AC Milan want to sign Chelsea’s Fernando Torres. Should he leave?

    Aug 27, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

    fernando_torres Getty Images

    Milan want Torres on season-long loan deal. Will the Spaniard move on?

  4. Report: Neil Warnock to be named new Crystal Palace manager

    Aug 27, 2014, 7:18 AM EDT

    Hull City v Sheffield United - FA Cup Semi-Final Getty Images

    Experienced lower league manager set for second stint in charge of Palace.

  5. CONCACAF Champions League Roundup: New York makes victorious debut

    Aug 27, 2014, 1:02 AM EDT

    concacaf champions league logo

    Red Bulls win their full tournament debut, while Club Améric takes a valuable point on the road.

  6. PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Whole New World Edition

    Aug 26, 2014, 10:14 PM EDT

    kyle_beckerman_fabian_castillo

    The rankings have had a big four — LA, RSL, Seattle, and Sporting. That group makes way for two new teams at the top of the PRs.

  7. Samuel Eto’o signs two-year deal with Everton

    Aug 26, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 5.16.32 PM

    Three-time Champions League winner adds depth to Roberto Martínez’s attack.

  8. Van Gaal appeals to supporters’ belief after Manchester United’s League Cup loss

    Aug 26, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT

    louis_van_gaal AP

    United boss asks fans to withhold judgment on his team’s disappointing start.

  9. League Cup Roundup: Manchester United embarrassed by Milton Keynes, 4-0

    Aug 26, 2014, 6:04 PM EDT

    jonny_evans Getty Images

    Red Devils hit a new low, with three other Premier League clubs bowing out in the competition’s second round.

  10. UEFA Champions League Roundup: Zenit, Porto through; Celtic sunk by late Maribor goal

    Aug 26, 2014, 5:06 PM EDT

    hulk AP

    BATE Borisov and APOEL Nicosía are also into the group stage, with the five final spots to be decided tomorrow.

  11. Landon Donovan will get U.S. farewell, to be called up to face Ecuador

    Aug 26, 2014, 4:27 PM EDT

    One of Donovan;s finest moments came for the USA at the 2010 World Cup. His last minute goal sent the USMNT through to the last 16. Getty Images

    U.S. Soccer is doing right by its biggest icon. Donovan will be called up for the Oct. 10 game in Connecticut.

  12. PST’s Major League Soccer Player of the Week: New York’s Thierry Henry

    Aug 26, 2014, 4:14 PM EDT

    thierry_henry Getty Images

    For the second time in seven weeks, Thierry Henry takes home our weekly honor.

  13. The danger in Jermaine Jones to New England: perceived league chaos

    Aug 26, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

    Bv7WpAlIMAER8e9

    Why the Jones to New England move would’ve been a whole lot better with a little more transparency. Or a lot more transparency, if you like.

  14. Jermaine Jones unveiled in New England, quips that “I like to win”

    Aug 26, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT

    Bv_Aa5AIcAEBfhI

    New England got a whole lot better on Tuesday, and the Revs new Designated Player will immediately cause opposition problems in MLS.

  15. Official: Manchester United breaks transfer record, signs Di Maria

    Aug 26, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT

    Bv-8S8vCcAAWAVe

    Angel Di Maria has cost Manchester United a British transfer record of more than $98 million from Real Madrid.

  16. Fantasyland: Week Two leaders, three names to monitor

    Aug 26, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    There’s still time to join up for a year of Fantasy Premier League fun via Yahoo’s free game, but don’t wait too much longer: the points are getting racked up!

  17. Arsenal, Man United sigh as Benatia heads to Bayern, Manolas to Roma

    Aug 26, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT

    International Champions Cup 2014 - AS Roma v FC Internazionale Milano Getty Images

    Both Kostas Manolas and Mehdi Benatia have been pegged for the Premier League all summer, but the former will head to Roma to take the Bayern-bound latter’s spot.

  18. UEFA Champions League playoff round preview: Oh, those second legs

    Aug 26, 2014, 11:27 AM EDT

    Arsene Wenger AP

    Tuesday and Wednesday bring 10 second legs for 20 clubs hopeful of the group stage windfall and another step toward glory.

  19. Real Madrid rolls out black kits for UEFA Champions League (Is that a dragon?)

    Aug 26, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT

    https://twitter.com/realmadriden https://twitter.com/realmadriden

    Real Madrid goes to extremes, with only a touch of pink dotting their UEFA Champions League gear.

  20. Men in Blazers podcast: Spurs, Toffees and Chamakh’s brutal hair

    Aug 26, 2014, 10:21 AM EDT

    meninblazers

    The Men in Blazers are back for the second week of the Premier League, roaring through the league with breakneck speed and, dare-we-say, banter (not the Moody/Mackay type).

Featured video

Balotelli will boost Suarez-less Liverpool