On Tuesday, Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said his team will return to training later this week and that midfielder Mauro Rosales might return to health in time to play this weekend.
Neither statement would be remarkable, except that Schmid’s club is down to the final 90 minutes of its MLS season – unless it can beat Real Salt Lake by at least three goals tonight at CenturyLink Field.
“The main thing is it’s not our last day of practice,” Schmid said after his team’s training session at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila. “ Sometimes to do outstanding things, or to do miracles, you have to set the stage. So we certainly have set the stage. So now it’s up to us to come through.”
The Sounders set this stage by losing, 3-0, on Saturday at Real Salt Lake. That advantage carries over into the concluding match of this aggregate-score series.
Never miss a local story.
However, overcoming that deficit would not represent the greatest comeback in MLS playoff history.
That happened in 2003 when San Jose fell four goals behind Los Angeles 13 minutes into the deciding game, then rallied to tie in regulation and advanced with another goal in added time.
Schmid knows something about that because he was coach of the Galaxy.
“It wasn’t any great tactical plan,” Schmid said. “It was just, ‘Come on guys, we’ve got to win the ball, we’ve got to win our duels.’ And so for me it’s just another example that everything’s possible. ... There’s plenty of examples in the history of soccer where teams can do it.”
Since MLS instituted aggregate-goal conference semifinals in 2003, the team losing the first leg has rallied to win the series 10 times. Four of those teams trailed by at least two goals at some point.
However, that also means the team that went on to win the series the other 22 times either won or tied the first match.
“You’d rather be three ahead than three behind at this stage,” Schmid said. “ We can’t go back and change Saturday’s game. ... What we can is change our performance and affect the result (tonight). And that’s our intention.”
The Sounders scored three or more goals in eight of their 34 regular-season matches. However, they won by three or more goals only three times.
That is a reminder that they not only have to score goals tonight, but they also have to prevent RSL goals.
“We need a clean sheet,” midfielder Alvaro Fernandez said, through a translator, “because if they get one of those goals, it’s probably going to put us out.”
The Sounders also need to balance the virtues of urgency and patience.
“We know we’re not going to get all three goals in five minutes,” Schmid said. “ It’s going to be 90 minutes of work; and we’ve got to get our goals from different places. We’ve got to get them from the run of play. We’ve got to be dangerous on corners. We’ve got to be dangerous on set pieces. We’ve got to keep the pressure on them and not give anything up.”
Seattle has never overcome a three-goal deficit to win. However, the Sounders are used to coming from behind – often using almost every available minute.
They have come from a goal down to win or draw 12 MLS and CONCACAF matches this season. They led MLS with 15 goals in the final 15 minutes of games. Six of those either won or tied the match. Five Seattle goals were scored in the 90th minute or stoppage time.
Similar heroics, and more, are needed tonight if their season is to continue.
“We have an opportunity to come up with a great result,” Schmid said. “Hopefully, if we have a result that we want to have, it will be a game that people will remember for a long, long time. So that’s our objective: to create a game that you’re not going to forget for a long time.”
MLS playoffs, second leg: Real Salt Lake at Seattle, 7 p.m., ESPN2, 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish) SOUNDERS GAMEDAY
NO. 3 REAL SALT LAKE (15-11-3 REGULAR SEASON) AT NO. 2 SOUNDERS FC (18-7-9)
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: ESPN2. RADIO: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
HEAD TO HEAD: RSL leads 3-2-2, including a 3-0 win in the only postseason meeting, Saturday in Utah.
REGULAR-SEASON LEADERS: For Seattle – G 12, Fredy Montero; A 13, Mauro Rosales; S 108, Montero; SOG 42, Montero; GAA 1.09; Kasey Keller. For RSL – G 11, Alvaro Saborio; A 9, Kyle Beckerman; S 66, Saborio; SOG 31, Fabian Espindola; GAA 1.09, Nick Rimando.
NOTES: This is the deciding match of an aggregate-score, home-and-away MSL Western Conference semifinal series. Total goals over the two games decide the winner. RSL holds a three-goal lead from Game One. If total goals are even after 90 minutes, there will be 30 minutes of extra time. If goals remain even, the winner will be decided by penalty kicks. Seattle put no shots on goal in the first leg. RSL central defenders Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers are both questionable with quadriceps strains. Mauro Rosales (knee) is out for Sounders. If Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso, Erik Friberg, Fredy Montero or RSL’s Fabian Espindola is cautioned, he would miss the conference final because of accumulation. The club said “a limited number” of tickets remained available Tuesday. If the Sounders are eliminated, the final whistle will mark the end of goalkeeper Kasey Keller’s playing career.
QUOTABLE: “(If) that’s the way it works out, then that’s the way it works out. I just want to go out and win the game (tonight), and hopefully we win by a big enough margin. But that’s all part of team play: You don’t have that choice. You go out and play the best you can for the team, and hope it’s enough.” – Keller on the chance this is his last game.
NEXT: The series winner will meet the Los Angeles/New York winner Sunday in the single-elimination Western Conference final. The season ends for the loser.
Don Ruiz, staff writer