By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake have met four times this season, and over those 360 minutes they are separated by a single goal: RSL 1, Seattle 0.
Nothing at all separated the teams Friday, when they opened their home-and-away, aggregate-score series with a scoreless draw at CenturyLink Field.
As the Sounders returned to training for the Thursday match that will mark the end of the season for the losing club, coach Sigi Schmid said he expects more of the same.
“I think these two teams are very close,” he said Saturday. “I think Salt Lake has been a good team, I think we’ve been a good team. … It will be a close game. It might be a series that gets decided by one goal at the end of the day.”
Schmid said he re-watched the opening game until 2 a.m. Saturday, and that he spotted a few areas where his team could improve. He added that Salt Lake could make changes too, perhaps attacking more aggressively while playing the decisive game on its home pitch.
The primary difference could be the return of Sounders leading scorer Eddie Johnson, who missed the first game with an adductor strain. Johnson went through light training Saturday and is on pace to return to a full workload when the Sounders return to practice Monday.
His return could not only add the offensive firepower that notched a club-record 14 goals during the regular season, but it also could open space on the flanks and buy more room for fellow forward Fredy Montero.
“Eddie has certain physical qualities that he brings to the games,” Schmid said. “The wide players get a lot of space; there are opportunities to cross the ball. Eddie’s good in the air, so he adds that quality. … Their defense has to be a little more respectful, maybe can’t play as high a line, so that gives us more room to operate at midfield, and makes their midfield cover a little more space. … When Fredy and Eddie are on the field together it helps them both because you can’t key on one or the other.”
Schmid said midfielder Mauro Rosales, who was subbed out late Friday, is “fine.” He also said defenders Leo Gonzales (hamstring) and Patrick Ianni (calf) are making progress. … If the deciding game is tied at the end of regulation, there will be 30 minutes of added time. If the tie remains, the series will be determined by penalty kicks.