Exciting, thrilling, nerving, and relieving can be the only words to describe tonight’s match. The desperation for Seattle to win the match was demonstrated in nearly every touch. Continuously on the attack Seattle certainly had the better game and the 2-0 result showed it. However, it is Real Salt Lake that moves on the Western Conference Final due to the aggregate score of 3-2. Tonight’s match required a big, emotional match from the Seattle Sounders and they showed up. So much heart, talent and skill came from Seattle tonight, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Real Salt Lake’s victory on the first leg. Holding possession for 61% of the game, Seattle set the tempo for the entire match.
The first thirty minutes showed grit from both sides. Each eager to leave a mark and the result was some really scrappy play. Seemed every few minutes another player was laid out on the pitch and it accounted for much of the unusually large nine minutes of total stoppage time. Fouls from each team came up fairly even at 17-16 with Seattle having more. The big results of the fouls were the field position and opportunities to score. Many of RSL’s fouls gave Seattle the opportunity for a set piece leading to a shot. Seattle accumulated 26 shots on the night with nine on goal. Perhaps the most frustrating shot on goal was Jeff Parke’s 36th minute shot that looked destined for goal. Tony Beltran came back across goal flicking his body back and catching his head on it for a corner. It was probably one of the greatest saves all season and would be prove to be the game saver. Unfortunately, it would be Beltran that leads to the first goal.
On a feed to Michael Fucito, the ball took a deflection off Beltran and in pursuit he pulls on Fucito for position pulling him down in the box in the 55th minute. Referree Jair Murrufo would award the penalty kick for the foul and provide Beltran with a yellow card. Oswaldo Alonso would take the PK and narrowly beat Nick Rimando low center. The goal for Seattle would spark the team and sustained attacks would be the story for the remainder of the match. It was about the 60th minute when the makeshift backline of Real Salt Lake began to show weaknesses and a little chaos. In the 61st minutes Seattle truly takes advantage. Freddy Montero crosses the ball from the right side of the box to the left to find unmarked Lamar Neagle who calmly takes a one touch shot back across the box by Nick Rimando for Seattle’s second goal. The next 34 minutes to include stoppage would see Real Salt Lake playing on their heels doing everything in their power to stop the attack. The only exception being a play from Yordany Alvarez to Fabian Espindola putting him one-on-one with keeper Kasey Keller. The shot would be terrific, to be matched with a terrific reflex save. Keller was able to get just enough of his hand on it to deflect it out for a corner. The match would just be an exhaustive effort.
The effort from RSL would be rewarded with only conceding those two goals in the match. It was certainly a different showing from a few nights ago. Seattle was definitely up for the show. They put forth a very good effort, but unfortunately for them it was not enough. Many of the Seattle players will largely be disappointed after their fantastic season, but none more so than their goal keeper. Legend keeper Kasey Keller will surely have a lot of memories from his last professional season. He was the inspiration for this team to win their first playoff series and progress through the playoffs. His leadership, skills, and motivation will be greatly missed on and off the field. Kasey, you will be missed. For RSL, they do move on and have another match to prepare for.
Tonight is the second leg of the other Western Conference Semi-Final. In LA, the New York Red Bulls travel to the Home Depot Center to face the LA Galaxy. LA currently leads the series 1-0 and will have a comfortable feel at home. The largely inconsistent NY Red Bulls had a very disappointing match at their home ground and will look to bounce back tomorrow. New York certainly possesses all the tools to win games and should not be a write off for the LA Galaxy. If NYRB were to find their groove for tomorrows match, they will test LA and even potentially win the series. What does the result mean to RSL? If LA wins tomorrow night’s match they will be the highest seeded Western Conference team and will host the Western Conference Final on Sunday, November 6th at 7PM MST. Should New York win the series it will leave RSL as the highest seed and RSL will host the Western Conference Final on Monday, November 7th at 7PM MST. Each situation has advantages and disadvantages.
Facing LA Galaxy on Sunday means another road game. The Galaxy are very consistent in their play and you know what you will get. At home they are composed, stalwart and undefeated this season to include defeating RSL at home. This situation gives RSL the biggest challenge. It also means Real Salt Lake are the underdog, which is favorable to them. Being the underdog will provide them with more focus, excitement and anticipation for the game. A Jason Kreis vs. Bruce Arena final will be a chess match. One deep thinker taking on another. It will play slow for the first 20-30 minutes for each team to find their rhythm and then the game will play. In my opinion this scenario would favor the Los Angeles Galaxy. In contrast, a match with the NYRB gives a very different look.
Should New York Red Bulls win, it will mean a home game for RSL. Real Salt Lake like their home crowd and their success at home is overwhelming. In the two matches in the year, RSL won both. Not just won but had an aggregate score of 6-1 against them. This match is probably the best situation for Real Salt Lake. Jason Kreis really has a grasp of how Hans Backe coaches New York. The results are obviously beneficial. However, NYRB really do have a big unknown factor. One day they may look terrible, the next like the best team in the league. This uncertainty is very difficult to plan for and could make the match very tricky.
Real Salt Lake will be anxiously watching tonight to assume their fate. Regardless of the outcome, the mentality is the same. Focus and compete. A complete performance will be needed to make it past the next stage and errors will unlikely be permitted. Every touch on the ball counts and is necessary to become the victor.