While hardly a disaster, Friday night’s 0-0 tie with Real Salt Lake was far from the ideal result at home for the Sounders, who now must win on the road Thursday or go home from the playoffs after one round for the fourth straight season.
In the aggregate goal format that MLS uses in its playoffs, getting a win at home isn’t required to advance, but it certainly makes for a far less stressful road game. But despite creating several chances, many of which were thwarted by the impressive efforts of Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, Seattle now has to find a way to win on the road to advance to the conference finals for the first time.
“I can’t be displeased with how we played and the effort that we gave tonight,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “I was very pleased. It’s halftime, it’s 0-0. We’ve been a good road team, and we’ve just got to go to Salt Lake and play well.”
The result may have been disappointing for Seattle, but it was hardly surprising. In three meetings during the regular season, Real Salt Lake and the Sounders played to a pair of 0-0 ties, including a scoreless draw here two weeks ago. Salt Lake’s goal in a 1-0 victory in May is the only score between the teams in four meetings this season.
“We’re two similar teams with similar kinds of players,” Sounders midfielder Mauro Rosales said. “It’s tough to play each other. It’s two of the top teams in the league and the game is going to be like that.”
In last year’s playoffs, Real Salt Lake jumped ahead of Seattle 3-0 at home, then held on as the Sounders managed two goals in Seattle. With Seattle hosting the first leg this time around, it hoped to return the favor, and had plenty of good chances to go ahead, but Rimando was simply a man who would not be beaten on this night.
Seattle’s best chances came moments apart when Rimando robbed Sammy Ochoa and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado on back-to-back corner kicks. Ochoa, who was starting in place of an injured Eddie Johnson, found space in the box in the 33rd minute and fired a header on target, but Rimando managed to get one hand on it and send it just over the bar. On the ensuing corner, Hurtado put a header on target, but Rimando was again up to the task.
“I think it will have to go down as one of the single best individual performances by any player that’s ever worn an RSL jersey,” Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said.
Seattle created more good chances in the second half, most notably in the 50th minute when Ochoa had an open look from close range but sent it well over the goal. David Estrada found himself in position to be the hero off the bench in the 81st minute, but just missed getting on the end of a cross. And of course, Rimando came up big in the second half with one last impressive save, denying a Christian Tiffert header in the 51st minute.
For all of his heroics, Rimando was almost unable to finish the game after he caught an inadvertent elbow from Tiffert near his eye. The game was delayed for more than five minutes while Rimando was bandaged up, but he ultimately stayed in.
“It really killed the momentum a little bit,” Schmid said of the long delay. “I think it took us a while to get back in the flow after that. I thought prior to that, we were really all over them.”
That being said, nobody was accusing Rimando of faking an injury to milk the clock. Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning noted that he saw Rimando after the game and that his fellow goalkeeper’s face was “a little bit damaged.”
“Sometimes people do it on purpose, but in this case, he was really injured,” Gspurning said.
And while the Sounders would certainly prefer to be heading to Salt Lake City next week with a lead, nobody is going to make that trip with a defeatist attitude.
“We can sit here and we can lament about it,” Schmid said. “We can cry about it and we can say, ‘Oh, geez, that was terrible. Wow, oh my God, what are we going to do? Oh, woe is me, the sky is falling, are we going to be able to cross the road and not get hit by a car?’ We can talk about all these things right now, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to get ready for a game on Thursday and we have to build on what was good.”
Seattle players know they are fighting an uphill battle at this point, but they remain confident.
“The plus is now on RSL’s side, but don’t write us off,” Gspurning said. “We’re a good away team too. It will be a fun game next week.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org
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