SEATTLE — How high does early sending off rank on the list of things you never want to see in a big match? Probably depends on the nature of the dismissal. What you think of Wednesday’s sending off likely determines how you feel about referee Ricardo Salazar.
Man of the Match: Seattle’s team effort was so balanced that it took over 90 minutes for a Sounder to distinguish himself, but when Real Salt Lake’s two best chances came in second half stoppage time, it was Michael Gspurning that preserved the point. A lunging stop on a late Chris Schuler drive coupled with some drama denying Jonny Steele saw Gspurning take the night’s honors.
Packaged for takeaway:
- To Seattle fans, Salazar has become a pantomime villain, a role he carried into tonight’s came thanks to (among other incidents) his sending off of Patrick Ianni in this year’s U.S. Open Cup final. A collective social media moan could be heard when his appointment was announced earlier this week. It’s as if Sounders’ fans knew he would have a part in Wednesday’s result.
- That part came in the 30th minute when Zach Scott took down Javier Morales just outside the of the Seattle area. It was a clumsy challenge that ended with Scott falling on top of Morales, more harmless, poorly-executed wrestling move than malicious tackle. In light of Scott’s 10th minute yellow card, the play was reckless. Scott put himself in position to be sent off, a result Salazar confirmed with a second booking.
- The broader question: How often do you see that foul result in a dismissal? It wasn’t the harshest call you’ll see this season, but most referees would have kept the card in their pocket. While Salazar’s entitled to his decision, was it a fair call? Considering what players expect from a typical MLS match?
- “Lord help us if we get Salazar in the playoffs,” Schmid said post-game. His halftime comments will likely earn him a fine, describing Salazar as Real Salt Lake’s 12th man.
- Until the sending off, it had been a relatively even match. Seattle, as they’ve done previously against RSL, tried to beat Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers with long balls targeting Fredy Montero. RSL responded by patiently building through the middle, trying to pass their way through Seattle’s midfield.
- After the red card, little changed except Seattle’s defense, which naturally became more compact and less aggressive. Brad Evans, who was forced into a start at right back, had to play the rest of the night in the middle, Schmid sacrificing Sammy Ochoa to bring Mike Seamon on at right.
- Despite the changes, the Sounders still had success targeting Montero, while RSL was unable to tap their way through Seattle’s defense.
- The final part of the match saw the game fall into a familiar, redundant pattern. RSL would pass their way to the edge of the Sounders’ defensive third, try to make their way through the middle only to see a Seattle player break up play before Osvaldo Alonso vacuumed up the ball.
- In that way, it was a very impressive performance from Seattle, even if Real Salt Lake made the obligatory late go of it. Up until that 92nd minute, there was little doubt Seattle would take at least a point.
- Given the circumstances, the result is a good one for Seattle, even if the bigger picture sees it as a missed opportunity for both teams. The difference between second and third in either conference isn’t a big deal, so while the Sounders improved their chances of passing RSL in the West, the draw delivers a blow to each team’s chances of catching Sporting Kansas City for second in the overall standings.