Skip to content

MLS playoff preview: Seattle Sounders at Real Salt Lake

Nov 7, 2012, 2:15 PM EST

Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Semifinals Getty Images

Who would have thought the most exciting much of this year’s playoffs would be a 0-0? So far, that’s the case, though it’s not a fair question. Not many postseason predictions posts have a place for Scoreline of the playoffs’ most exciting game. Even if somebody spends time thinking about such things, there aren’t many places to go on record.

But since Seattle and Real Salt Lake opened the semifinal round with a goalless thriller last Friday, the rest of Major League Soccer’s round of eight has been unable to replicate the drama. So between the scoreline, Nick Rimando’s heroics, the teams’ history (they also met in last year’s Western Conference semis), and the pure quality of these two MLS Cup contenders, it would be fair to call Thursday’s second leg at Rio Tinto highly anticipated.

And as with all second legs, there’s always on big, underlying question: What should we expect to change from the first leg.

Kickoff: 10:00 p.m. Eastern, Rio Tinto Stadium, NBC Sports Network

Series is tied, 0-0, after leg one

On Real Salt Lake

  • Mission accomplished? On paper, yes. RSL got out of CenturyLink with a draw. What road team wouldn’t take that?
  • But Friday’s outcome was less of a moral victory than a boxer absorbing a 12-round beating only to be bailed out by the judges. Sure, you take it, but in your heart, you know you got worked.
  • That type of analogy completely ignores the fact that goalkeeper Nick Rimando is an RSL player, the team values counts on his performance, and you can’t just dissociate a goalkeeper’s contributions from the rest of the team’s when assessing the product (a mistake which, admittedly, I’ve done too often). Rimando has given other-worldly performances before. Who’s to say he won’t do so again on Thursday?
  • Ideally, Jason Kreis won’t need any incredible performances to get a result, but that requires solving the midfield problem. RSL’s diamond was exploited down its left, an advantage that led to 30 open play crosses for Seattle.
  • The midfield also failed to connect with Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola. Saborio scored twice in last year’s home leg, but on Friday, he didn’t get a good look until very late.
  • Fabian Espindola, who left Friday’s match at halftime with a hamstring injury, is listed as probable. So is Ned Grabavoy (quad) and every RSL central defender: Jamison Olave (hamstring), Nat Borchers (quad), Chris Schuler (quad) and Kwame Watson-Siriboe (ankle). What’s with all the quad strains?

On the Seattle Sounders

  • Seattle has injury concerns of their own, most notably with Mauro Rosales. The man responsible for so much of the work against RSL’s left limped from the field on Friday after tweaking a hamstring. But rest easy, SounderFan. Rosales didn’t even make the injury report.
  • More good news: Eddie Johnson will be back. The U.S. international (and Seattle’s leading goalscorer during the regular season) didn’t even dress on Friday. His presence was sorely missed. It’s hard to believe Seattle doesn’t convert one of their myriad of crosses if one of the league’s greatest aerial threats is in the team. On Friday, Sigi Schmid made sure everybody knew: Eddie will be ready for Utah.
  • Seattle’s only other injury concern is left back Leo Gonzalez, who missed game one with a hamstring strain. Veteran Marc Burch will probably get the call.
  • Though the final score doesn’t show it, Seattle’s coming off one of their best performances of the season (the best game I’ve seen them play all year). One man’s extraordinary performance kept them from a lopsided win, so while a 0-0 result at home would normally lead to some tweaks, Schmid’s task for leg two is to keep his good thing going.
  • That means exploiting the wide areas. Or, area. Seattle’s right side, manned by Rosales, proved a huge advantage on Friday.  If Rosales is less than 100 percent or Kreis finds a solution, it’s not something Seattle’s likely to replicate on their left. There are only so many Mauro Rosaleses in the world.
  • What would Plan B be? Any variety of options centering around Johnson. Or Fredy Montero. Or the play of Christian Tiffert and Osvaldo Alonso. You’d call it am embarrassment of riches, but general manager Adrian Hanauer and staff have no reason to blush about the job they’ve done.
  • One of Hanauer’s more recent acquisitions, goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, received a lot of credit for his overshadowed Friday performance, but in a game where the little things could prove decisive, Gspurning will have to avoid replicating the first half giveaway that gifted RSL a chance at goal.
  • Obligatory Seattle history references: They’ve never won a playoff series (0-for-3). In 2009, their first leg with Houston also ended scoreless, with the second leg requiring extra time after another goalless 90 minutes. Brian Ching scored in the 96th minute to end Seattle’s first MLS season.
  • Seattle’s scored only three goals in 660 playoff minutes: 0.41 goals per game. That’s not bad. It’s terrible.

Bottom line:

If Seattle plays like they did on Friday, they win most of the time. “Most” actually understates how good they were. The Sounders win nine out of 10 games playing at that level, which is why their history of playoff frustrations should matter little on Thursday. Keep doing what they’re doing, and Seattle moves on.

The ball is in Kreis’s court. His team is as predictable as they come in terms of set up and tactics. He always uses that narrow, diamond in midfield, and the team likes its short, controlled passing game – a plan that didn’t work on Friday. It failed miserably, but thanks to Nick Rimando, RSL’s was given a lifeline.

The extent to which they take advantage of that lifeline depends on Kreis’s changes.

Latest Posts
  1. Diego Costa maintains his innocence, says “I’ve not done anything wrong”

    Jan 31, 2015, 11:20 PM EST

    Diego Costa, Chelsea FC Diego Costa, Chelsea FC

    Diego Costa has again claimed his own innocence. And you know what? I believe that he believes he’s done nothing wrong.

  2. Sam Allardyce: Liverpool “weren’t outstanding at all,” injuries downed West Ham

    Jan 31, 2015, 10:43 PM EST

    Sam Allardyce, West Ham United Sam Allardyce, West Ham United

    Big Sam was quick to take the credit away from Liverpool and place the blame for Saturday’s loss on his own injury “crisis.”

  3. Louis van Gaal: Manchester United “killed the game” with loss at Leicester City in mind

    Jan 31, 2015, 9:24 PM EST

    Louis van Gaal, Manchester United Louis van Gaal, Manchester United

    Van Gaal remembers what happened last time his side led Leicester, and he learns his lessons the first time.

  4. DONE DEAL: Seydou Doumbia to Roma headlines quiet Saturday for transfers

    Jan 31, 2015, 8:30 PM EST

    Seydou Doumbia, CSKA Moscow Seydou Doumbia, CSKA Moscow

    All of the day’s confirmed, officially official transfer dealings from Saturday, Jan. 31.

  5. Africa Cup of Nations roundup: DR Congo, Equatorial Guinea into SF after wild day of events

    Jan 31, 2015, 7:27 PM EST

    Tunisia vs. Equatorial Guinea, AFCON 2015 Tunisia vs. Equatorial Guinea, AFCON 2015

    The actual games took a backseat to shenanigans as two of four semifinals places were booked on Saturday.

  6. Premier League Sunday preview: Top-half teams jockey for position

    Jan 31, 2015, 4:57 PM EST

    bae0b6330cf33479c7548821a12d22b5 Getty Images

    Arsenal and Southampton hope to keep their assaults on the Top Four in order, while Aston Villa and Swansea City hope to snap skids.

  7. Bundesliga wrap: Wolfsburg ends Bayern’s unbeaten dreams, USMNT’s Johnson strong

    Jan 31, 2015, 4:19 PM EST

    Germany Soccer Bundesliga AP

    And to think, we’ve still a pair of Sunday matches on the slate. Let’s go through what’s done and dusted.

  8. Premier League roundup: Big wins for Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and more

    Jan 31, 2015, 3:40 PM EST

    FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-LEICESTER FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-LEICESTER

    There were eight games in the PL on a busy Saturday. Here’s how it all went down with recaps, analysis and much more.

  9. Pellegrini “not happy with a point”, takes sly shots at Mourinho’s game plan

    Jan 31, 2015, 3:20 PM EST

    Chelsea v Manchester City - Premier League Getty Images

    Manchester City’s boss thought his charges were very good, but is disappointed to snare a solitary point against Chelsea.

  10. Man City’s Lampard reacts to “bit of a strange day” in return to Chelsea (video)

    Jan 31, 2015, 3:12 PM EST

    FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-MAN CITY Getty Images

    Lampard was the last player on the pitch, saluting both groups of supporters.

  11. Three things we learned from Chelsea vs. Manchester City

    Jan 31, 2015, 3:06 PM EST

    Chelsea v Manchester City - Premier League Getty Images

    What did we learn from the tense draw at Stamford Bridge? Here’s three things.

  12. Player Ratings: How did Chelsea, Manchester City’s stand-in’s fare?

    Jan 31, 2015, 2:47 PM EST

    Remy slots home the opener. AP

    Giving Chelsea and City’s players a mark out of 10.

  13. Chelsea 1-1 Manchester City: Blues maintain five-point lead atop table

    Jan 31, 2015, 2:21 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    All the goal scoring came within the 41st and 45th minutes at Stamford Bridge, as City failed to cut into Chelsea’s first-place advantage.

  14. At the half: Chelsea and City level at 1 after late goals from Remy, Silva

    Jan 31, 2015, 1:21 PM EST

    Milner had a great game for City. AP

    It started off slow and tentative, but the big match between Chelsea and Manchester City is opening up

  15. David Moyes reveals his Spanish teacher is a Manchester United fan

    Jan 31, 2015, 1:04 PM EST

    Real Sociedad de Futbol v Elche FC - La Liga Getty Images

    Moyesy is learning Spanish from a Manchester United fan…

  16. Roberto Martinez hopes much-needed win “kick starts” Everton’s season

    Jan 31, 2015, 12:50 PM EST

    Hull City v Everton - Premier League Getty Images

    For the Toffees, defense is the way forward for the rest of the season.

  17. After scoring vs Burnley, Jermain Defoe feels “like I have a lot of goals left in me”

    Jan 31, 2015, 12:33 PM EST

    Sunderland v Burnley - Premier League Getty Images

    “It’s always difficult to be honest when you’ve had a long break,” Defoe said. “But I’ve had a mini-pre-season and I’m getting sharper and sharper.”

Featured video

Chelsea v Man City: Lampard the hero?