Skip to content

MLS playoff preview: Seattle Sounders at Real Salt Lake

Nov 7, 2012, 2:15 PM EDT

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. MLS Snapshot: Sporting Kansas City 1-3 Houston Dynamo

    Aug 30, 2014, 12:06 AM EDT

    Graham Zusi, Mike Chabala

    The Houston Dynamo downed Sporting Kansas City, 3-1, at Sporting Park on Friday night.

  2. WATCH: Will Bruin strikes the first goal for Houston Dynamo

    Aug 29, 2014, 10:49 PM EDT

    Will Bruin 3

    Will Bruin’s close-range finish put Houston ahead of Sporting Kansas City, 1-0.

  3. Orlando City SC’s Yordany Alvarez retires due to medical condition

    Aug 29, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT

    Diego Chara, Yordany Alvarez

    Orlando City SC midfielder Yordany Alvarez retired from professional soccer because of a medical condition.

  4. Portugal excludes Cristiano Ronaldo from roster of Euro 2016 qualifier

    Aug 29, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo bows his head as he reacts to a play during the group G World Cup soccer match between the United States and Portugal at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, Sunday, June 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) AP

    Paulo Bento didn’t name Cristiano Ronaldo in his squad for Portugal’s Euro 2016 qualifier vs. Albania in early September.

  5. Watch Live: Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo (Lineups)

    Aug 29, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    Houston Dynamo v Sporting Kansas City - Eastern Conference Championship - Leg 2 Getty Images

    Watch the MLS match between Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo live on NBCSN.

  6. UEFA looking to change Champions League seeding

    Aug 29, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT

    uefa Getty Images

    A new system would benefit domestic club winners by separating the teams into different pots.

  7. Van Gaal: Roy Hodgson ‘cannot judge’ Luke Shaw’s fitness

    Aug 29, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT

    louis van gaal Getty Images

    Louis van Gaal thinks Luke Shaw has been coping with his injury problems well.

  8. Arsene Wenger to be ‘as secret as possible’ over transfer deals

    Aug 29, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    wenger Getty Images

    The Arsenal manager will remain quiet to the media until the transfer window closes as rumors swirl around the Emirates.

  9. Del Piero’s move to Indian Super League raises political dispute

    Aug 29, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Alessandro Del Piero Getty Images

    Alessandro Del Piero is going to the Indian Super League’s Dehli Dynamos, bringing to surface political debate in Italy.

  10. Premier League preview: Manchester City vs. Stoke City

    Aug 29, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    city Getty Images

    The defending champions will look to open the season with three straight wins as Stoke City visit the Etihad.

  11. Southampton looking to add Brek Shea on loan

    Aug 29, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT

    Fulham v Stoke City - Premier League Getty Images

    Southampton may acquire Brek Shea via loan.

  12. Transfer needs: Sunderland, Swansea, Tottenham, West Brom, West Ham

    Aug 29, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT

    FC Barcelona Training Session Getty Images

    Wrapping up our journey through the Premier League with the last five alphabetical names out of the 20-flight teams.

  13. Chelsea confirms two-year AC Milan loan for striker Fernando Torres

    Aug 29, 2014, 2:43 PM EDT

    Torres Getty Images

    The one-time largest transfer in Premier League history is moving to Italy on loan, the Stamford Bridge club confirmed today.

  14. US men to face Honduras in October; USWNT name roster for Mexico

    Aug 29, 2014, 2:21 PM EDT

    Honduras' Emilio Izaguirre and Graham Zusi of the U.S. jump as they challenge for the ball during their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Salt Lake City, Utah Reuters

    News from the senior teams for the United States men and women comes across the web this Friday afternoon. What’s cooking? Head inside.

  15. Liverpool boss Rodgers: ‘This is not the Mario Balotelli show’

    Aug 29, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT

    balo Getty Images

    Brendan Rodgers liked what he saw in training from the club’s newest signing, but says the troubled Italian must change his ways at Liverpool.

  16. Serie A season preview, predictions: Juve still class of deep league

    Aug 29, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT

    Italy Soccer Serie A AP

    The Old Lady went an absurd 33W-3D-2L last season, busting No. 2 AS Roma in the nose by a meager 27 points.

  17. Premier League preview: Everton vs. Chelsea

    Aug 29, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT

    Diego Costa could be sidelined with a muscle injury Getty Images

    A Diego Costa injury could hurt Chelsea’s chances as the Toffees look to rebound from a tough draw against Arsenal.

  18. Friday’s transfer rumor roundup: Vidal stays at Juve, Cerci wants move

    Aug 29, 2014, 12:49 PM EDT

    Juventus Training Session Getty Images

    Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle, PSG and Arsenal all make the transfer churner to end the workweek.

  19. Report: Manchester United accepts $13 million PL bid for Tom Cleverley

    Aug 29, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT

    Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Getty Images

    Can Paul Lambert and Roy Keane convince the midfielder to come to Villa Park?

  20. VIDEO: Louis van Gaal talks Angel Di Maria, Man Utd rebuilding process

    Aug 29, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 11.20.53 AM

    LVG says the addition of ADM won’t change his approach to building how United plays soccer.

Featured video

Breaking down Di Maria, Balotelli deals