SANDY, Utah – Sounders FC has assembled quite a list of achievements over its first three seasons: three U.S. Open Cups, three playoff qualifications, two CONCACAF Champions League appearances, along with a string of attendance records.
However, there is one blemish: The club has never won a playoff game, let alone a playoff series. They have one goal over their four playoff matches.
Tonight, the Sounders open their third playoff series with hopes of starting to change things at Real Salt Lake.
“It’s something we’ve got to get off our résumé,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think we’ve got outmuscled, outphysicaled in the Houston series two years ago. I think we got a little bit of the same against L.A. in a little different way (last season). ... The main thing I took out of those two series was our physical aspect of our game needed to be a little bit tougher in the playoff.”
Sounders defender Jeff Parke said those days are over.
“I think definitely last year, when we went up against tough teams – physical teams – they pushed us around the field and threw us off our game,” he said. “It was definitely a bit of their strategy, and it worked. I think this year is different. ... We get out on the field, and we don’t’ really put up with that.”
Several Sounders have noted their mental outlook also is stronger now.
In 2009, they seemed to have a feeling of success from simply making the playoffs as an expansion team.
In 2010, they needed a late-season push that they say left them physically and mentally drained as the playoffs began.
This season should be different, they say.
“This year there was a focus of, ‘OK, we’re going to make the playoffs and we’re going to go get the job done once we do that,’ ” said veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who will retire after the season. “To me, at least, it doesn’t even feel like we’re in the playoffs. It feels like we’ve got two more games. ... This is what we’ve been gearing for the whole time, these two games here. Take care of this team, and then move on to the next.”
This Sounders playoff series is different in another way. This is the first time the club has gone in as the higher seed. That brings the reward of playing the concluding game on their home pitch.
That wasn’t the case in 2009, when the Sounders and Dynamo played to a scoreless draw in Seattle before shifting to Houston, where the home team won, 1-0, in added time.
The Sounders also opened their 2010 series at home, losing to the Galaxy, 1-0, before being put away, 2-1, in the return match at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
This season, the Sounders know the series will be resolved Wednesday before a friendly crowd at CenturyLink Field.
“It’s nice to know that it is going to happen at home,” Schmid said. “It’s nice to know you’ve got your crowd behind you. It’s nice to know you’ve got your last few days of preparation and you’re sleeping in your own bed and you’re going through your regular routine.”
However, this configuration has worked fine for RSL, which is 3-0 in three MLS and Champions League two-game series when they open at home. Conversely, they are 1-2 as the higher seed playing with the supposed advantage of concluding the series at home.
Perhaps because of that, RSL coach Jason Kreis does not concede that his club is at a disadvantage.
“(Most coaches) would say, ‘Well, we want to come home knowing exactly what result we need to advance. On top of that if we get ourselves into a strenuous situation and don’t get the result handled in the first 90 minutes, then we get to play the overtime and possible shootout in front of our home fans,’ ” Kreis said. “So I do think the (league seeding decision) has been made probably the right way. I don’t know that necessarily I think that is the best thing for our team.”
MLS playoffs, first leg: Seattle at Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m., Fox Soccer, 97.3-FM SOUNDERS GAMEDAY
NO. 2 SOUNDERS FC (18-7-9; 63 POINTS) AT NO. 3 REAL SALT LAKE (15-11-8; 53)
7 p.m., Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah.
TV: Fox Soccer. RADIO: 97.3-FM, 99-3-FM (Spanish).
HEAD-TO-HEAD: 2-2-2 overall. This season, each club won, 2-1, on the opponent’s home pitch.
TEAM 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 first match of an aggregate-score, home-and-away series. Total goals over the two games will decide the winner. If goals are even after the second game, it will go into 30 minutes of extra time. If goals remain even, the winner will be decided by penalty kicks. The winner advances to play the winner of the New York-Los Angeles series in the Western Conference final. ... RSL is winless over its past six matches. ... The Sounders had the best regular-season road record at 9-3-5. One of those victories snapped an MLS-record 29-game home unbeaten streak by RSL. ... Salt Lake is second in the league in goals-against average (1.06), third in shots on goal and fouls committed, fourth in corner kicks and tied for fifth in cautions. ... This is the fourth consecutive playoff appearance for RSL, which won the 2009 MLS Cup. This is the third consecutive appearance for the Sounders, who have never won a playoff game and have scored only one playoff goal. ... Montero had either a goal or assist over the past eight MLS regular-season games. ... Rosales (knee) did not travel to Utah and remains questionable for Game 2. ... A sellout crowd of more than 20,000 is expected. ... The referee is Mark Geiger.
QUOTABLE: “We know that Salt Lake is a formidable opponent ... the third-best team in the league over the course of the year. And we really want to advance. We want to do that for ourselves. We want to do that for our fans. And we want to do it for the development of the club.” – Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer.
NEXT: The series concludes at 7 p.m. Wednesday at CenturyLink Field, ESPN2.
Don Ruiz, staff writer