The way Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid saw it, his players’ performance Saturday night in Utah was so dismal that they needed time to process before turning their attention to the challenge ahead.
That look forward begins today, when the players return to training at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.
Their goal is as straightforward as it is daunting.
“We’ve got to score four,” Schmid said. “It’s very simple. We can’t allow any goals. There’s no secret strategy. Everybody’s got to play better soccer than what they’ve played. Everybody’s got to put in a better performance, from the coaching staff, to the support staff, to the players. Everybody’s got to do better at what they did, because (Saturday) wasn’t good enough.”
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On Saturday, Real Salt Lake beat Seattle, 3-0, in the opening match of their two-game, aggregate-score Major League Soccer playoff series.
That means the Sounders need to outscore Salt Lake by at least three goals Wednesday when the series resolves at CenturyLink Field. If the score of the combined games is even at the end of regulation, there would be 30 minutes of extra time. If the deadlock remained, penalty kicks would settle the series.
In the quiet visitors’ locker room at Rio Tinto Stadium late Saturday, the Sounders said it can be done.
“Sure, why not?” forward Fredy Montero said. “They won 3-0 against us. Why we can’t do the same?”
History shows that the feat is rare, but not unprecedented. During this 34-game regular season, the Sounders won three times by three or more goals. All three were home games. Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake has lost by three goals three times this season, all since Sept. 24.
However, history won’t matter unless Seattle can come up with a dramatically better game than the one played Saturday.
Salt Lake not only outscored the Sounders, but also outshot them, 19-10. Most tellingly, RSL put 12 shots on goal while Seattle had none.
“Some guys played well below our expectations,” Schmid said. “We’ve been in big games. We’ve played Open Cup finals. They’ve been in finals, they’ve had to play in games where it’s (win) or go. We’ve been in Champions League games. But (Saturday) we weren’t as composed as we needed to be. … It was like everything that could go wrong did go wrong. … We’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen the next game.”
One issue that could provide both an emotional and on-field boost would be the return of midfielder Mauro Rosales, who missed the opener with a knee injury. Last week, Schmid called Rosales’ status “iffy” for Wednesday, but the club should get a clearer indication today.
With or without Rosales, the essential ingredient is returning to the kind of play that took the Sounders to an 18-7-9 record during the MLS regular season, and not the kind of play that has dropped them to 0-4-1 all-time in the playoffs while being outscored 7-1.
“You work so hard to get to this point,” defender James Riley said. “We haven’t really gotten beat that bad in the three years when the games are on the line. Definitely it’s a trying moment for the group. We’ll see what type of character shows up Wednesday.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer