It was a thrilling night for Real Salt Lake fans in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals. From the blow of the whistle to start the game, RSL had only one agenda. The story was moving the ball, staying on the attack and completing passes. Real Salt Lake didn’t give Seattle a chance from the start dominating in nearly every aspect of the game. Completing 80% of their passes, Real Salt Lake seemed to have possession throughout the entire ninety minutes. Attacks from RSL started early, following with shots on goal. There were many great players in the game tonight, most of them wearing claret-and-cobalt. However, easily one of the best players on the field was Kasey Keller and his skills were tested early. He made outstanding saves against Will Johnson, Andy Williams, Robbie Russell, Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola. Real Salt Lake ended with twelve shots on goal and demanding effort from Kasey Keller. Though, he wouldn’t stop them all.
The first goal came through fourteen consecutive passes. The last two passes started in the 41st minute with Javier Morales finding Chris Wingert with space in the left side of the box. Wingert moved forward crossing it just in front of Kasey Keller and found the right foot of Alvaro Saborio for an easy tap in. The second goal came in the 54th minute, and was perhaps one of the best goals of season. Morales broke off the right line and beat his defender inside. With space he unleashed a very fast cross across the ground. Again it would be his right foot, this time not such an easy tap in. Saborio heal flicked the cross and redirect it on goal. The result: beauty. The ball crossed the box and into the left side of the goal. The third and final goal of the match was a blast from Ned Grabavoy. A save from Keller knocked the ball wide right, picked up by Grabavoy and he just blasted it as hard as possible. It was headed towards goal and the Sounder defender attempted the save, but only got a piece as the ball found the back of the net. The three goals were a compliment to the performance of the team.
Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said following the game that RSL beat Seattle in every facet of the game. He also said that he didn’t have any player play well with the exception of Kasey Keller. The play of the field clearly demonstrated this with Real Salt Lake’s dominate performance through the entire match. Coach Schmid went on to comment he thought it may have been the best match of the season from RSL. Real Salt Lake Coach Jason Kreis said it was nice to have first choice lineup since the first leg of the CCL final. The starting lineup reminded everyone why this team is so good. Yet, as it seems fit for RSL, injuries may prevent that from happening again this year. Both Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers left the game with injuries. Olave had a strained quad and Borchers with potential ACL issue. It is unknown if either will be available for the match Wednesday in Seattle. It is a big blow to RSL as they are trying to complete this season. It was even more interesting as they tried to complete the game last night.
The resulting makeshift back line had Wingert playing center back and Will Johnson playing left back. Chris Schuler, who came in for Olave in 32nd minute, was the other center back as they finished the match. The last ten minutes were a defensive stand, every player dedicated to the clean sheet. A few opportunities arose and a couple of gasping moments for RSL fans, but the result did not change. Seattle Sounders in the end did not manage a single shot on goal. RSL keeper Nick Rimando was left relatively unchallenged through the night, giving him his favorite type of game. However, next week a makeshift lineup in the back will not be enough for RSL to survive. The next two days will be critical to Real Salt Lake, trying to get Olave, Borchers or both back in the lineup. In contrast, Seattle did not lose any players in last night’s game. Although, even Coach Sigi Schmid felt lucky it was that way.
Soccer always seems to bring a little controversy and it is typically associated with calls made by the referee. Last night’s match saw a couple of these moments. Coach Schmid said “we were lucky to come out without a red card to Ozzie.” His reference was to a moment when Osvaldo Alonso lost his composure and took his hands to Alvaro Saborio’s neck. It was an unprofessional attack and the referee only gave a yellow card for the infraction. However, Alonso may not be in the clear yet. His actions may come under review with the MLS disciplinary committee. Losing Alonso would be devastating to Seattle for the second leg. He is one of the best holding midfielder’s in the league and means as much to Seattle as Kyle Beckerman does to RSL. However, playing Seattle at home is always tough.
Seattle’s fans are arguably the best in the MLS and will be there in very large numbers Wednesday. This series is only at its half way point, and although RSL have a 3-0 lead it would be a mistake to feel comfortable. The demeanor of the locker room following the match represented the position of the series, the players were excited for the result but very aware it isn’t over yet. The match Wednesday will surely be exciting and will have many fans on both sides exceptionally anxious.