SANDY, UTAH – The Sounders’ Major League Soccer playoff problems continued Saturday, when Real Salt Lake opened its two-game, aggregate-score Western Conference semifinal series against Seattle with a 3-0 win at least as dominating as it sounds.
“We’re lucky we didn’t lose 6-0,” Sounder coach Sigi Schmid said. “We were well-served by only losing 3-0. We played not well, and I thought Real Salt Lake played very well. A bad time for us to choose to have a bad game.”
The result represents the score halfway through a 180-minute competition. So the Sounders will have at least three goals to make up Wednesday when the series resolves at CenturyLink Field.
“We have a lot to be upset about tonight,” forward Mike Fucito said. “But come tomorrow, we’ve got to put it behind us and do whatever it takes to turn the table the other way.”
This series matched the No. 2 and 3 clubs during the MLS regular season. Over those 34 games, Seattle finished 10 points ahead of Salt Lake. However, before a crowd of 17,066 at Rio Tinto Stadium, the home team put 12 shots on goal, while the Sounders managed none.
Schmid had tinkered with his lineup, giving Sammy Ochoa a start at forward alongside Fredy Montero, putting Lamar Neagle at midfield in place of the injured Mauro Rosales, and giving Leo Gonzales the nod at outside back.
Afterward, he said nothing worked except for having Kasey Keller in goal.
“Everybody was the wrong choice,” Schmid said. “With the exception of Keller, nobody played real well. (RSL) won all the duels. If you count up the duels, any 50-50 duel they won. They were more physical than us. They knocked us off the ball early on. We didn’t react well to it. They crushed people on tackles. We pushed people on tackles, we didn’t crush them. They were much better than we were in all facets of the game.”
Only missed chances and some diving Keller saves kept the game scoreless until deep into the first half. But after the game, Keller declined comment, saying this was the kind of game where the coach – not the players – should do the talking.
RSL broke through in the 41st minute. Chris Wingert had found space in the penalty area and sent the ball to the far post, where Alvaro Saborio nudged it in.
Referee Mark Geiger ran to the sideline to discuss possible offsides with his lineman before awarding the goal.
“I haven’t seen the play, but it looked like offsides,” Schmid said. “Obviously Geiger – the referee – thought it was offsides, because he went to the linesman to double-check it. Possible offside goal, but the timing of the goal wasn’t good just before halftime.”
RSL’s domination continued from the start of the second half. Seattle survived a three-shot sequence in the 47th minute with Keller making two point-blank saves but not being able to control either. The threat ended as Andy Williams sent the second rebound over the crossbar.
However, Salt Lake pushed it to 2-0 in the 53rd minute, when Javier Morales rolled a ball across the penalty area, and Saborio back-heeled it just inside the far post.
Ned Grabavoy added one from close range in the 88th minute.
If that had come in a free-standing game, that late goal might have just been seen as insult added to injury. However, in an aggregate-score series, the Sounders admit it adds considerably to the challenge in front of them.
“The third one is definitely a dagger,” defender James Riley said. “... Three-zero is definitely a hole we didn’t want to be in, but that’s the reality of it. It’s all on the line on Wednesday.”
The winner of this series plays in the Western Conference final Nov. 6 against the winner of the New York-Los Angeles series, which begins today.
Seattle is 0-4-1 in MLS playoff games and they have been outscored 7-1.