Playoff Preview: Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders

It's the MLS playoffs! Seattle Sounders travel to Real Salt Lake for first leg. An exciting match awaits.

Real Salt Lake heads into the first game of the playoffs looking to answer some important questions.  The first question on many minds is if they can find critical post-season form. The last two performances have resulted in a tie, and have offered a glimpse of something more. The tie against Colorado on the road provided some confidence for the defense.  Borchers and Co. were able to work together to close on the ball and create turnovers.  The clean sheet was remarkable and could not have been done without the Nick Rimando in the net.  The great keeper came up with a couple of very critical saves to keep the game level at zero.  Questions not answered remained in the attack.  Real Salt Lake didn’t even muster one shot on goal against Colorado.  It’s difficult to win without goals.  Even with goals, it remains necessary to focus through a full ninety to finish a game.  This past Saturday showed a lot more promise from Real Salt Lake.

Against Portland, RSL possessed a lot of tempo and set the pace for the entire match.  RSL’s attack was established from the first blow of the whistle.  They were able to create a lot of pressure creating several opportunities.  The only shortfall was capitalizing on those opportunities.  Alvaro Saborio’s singularly beautiful touch accounted for RSL’s only goal. The defense largely came up trump really, establishing the foundation of strength for RSL.  However, it would be the defense with the discipline lapse to allow a last minute goal by Futty Danso. Overall, it was an optimistic performance from the Claret-and-Cobalt and provides a path of light for the playoff match Saturday.

A win Saturday holds many implications for RSL. First and foremost it will instill the long lost confidence the team normally operates on.  Injuries, suspensions and international duty have prevented RSL’s preferred eleven from playing with one another.  In many senses, rhythm seems like a dream and almost unrealistic.  However, through the struggles they have found a way to qualify for the playoffs.  Last year’s playoff run ended sooner than expectations, especially from the previous year of far exceeding expectation.  This year’s playoff run is a big question.  Hopefully, certain answers will be provided for that question against Seattle on Saturday.

There will be plenty of competition and RSL fans expect a turnaround in performance. Kyle Beckerman returns from serving a suspension. Tony Beltran and Ned Grabavoy are likely to return from injury. Javier Morales’ return will be looking for the final step of his recovery with his true threatening form shining through.  The communication of the team will need to improve to move the ball around the field and create opportunities to score.  This year has seen the most goals ever for a season for Real Salt Lake.  Nearly half of which came from the tandem forwards Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola. Each forward has been working hard with few results for several weeks and that little bit of magic needs to be found.  For three years the cohesive play of Morales and Beckerman has been the basis of victory for RSL. This season has seen this partnership broken up and results are up and down.  Saturday represents the return of this combo and hope for RSL.  There really couldn’t be a better time as they face arguably the best team in MLS.

Seattle Sounders have been playing wonderful football for last couple of months.  In this season’s two match, each had an away win.  In addition, the matchup is probably the most exciting matchup in the playoffs.  The teams are very competitive and have a healthy rivalry.  There is considerable respect for both sides and creates an exciting environment.  The two game series starts at Rio Tinto Stadium.  Seattle’s travel here will see them possibly disappointingly short one of their better players: Mauro Rosales.  I say “disappointingly” only because I really enjoy true competition and Rosales creates so much excitement from the midfield. This obviously creates a slight advantage but it should not be considered.  Lamar Neagle will be the likely replacement for him.  Neagle pace poses a lot of threat and makes him very dangerous on the break.  With or without Rosales, Seattle is a very talented team and will present many dangers for RSL. The Seattle Sounders will certainly be coming to Utah with the expectation to repeat their last performance at Rio Tinto.  However, Real Salt Lake has other plans.

RSL feels as though they have a lot to prove. Winless in last six, yet RSL still finished third in overall MLS standings. This past weekend foreshadowed an offense that seems almost long lost. The playoff matchup will be very exciting.  The game will be full of breaking opportunities as both teams are eager to establish the better position going into the second leg.  I think each defensive back line will see possibly their toughest games all season.  From the blow of the whistle this match will be packed with excitement.  I think the first thirty minutes will be almost non-stop action then slowing a bit until just before the half.  After the half-time break the engines will fire up and the excitement will run the full ninety.  I am almost certain this match will come down to the second half stoppage time.  Jason Kreis said the team needs to be “15 seconds better,” and this will be tested.  I believe this may be one of the more exciting matches of the season.

I’ll see you at the RioT!