Seattle and Real Salt Lake may be playoff fixtures, but each team enters this Major League Soccer postseason with something to prove. Notoriously, Seattle has failed to advance in their three playoff appearances, a record that’s overshadowed the remarkable feat of making the postseason every year of their MLS existence. For RSL, their 2009 title was not only an achievement but a promise. Now, the team is in search of a trophy that will quell the sting of their failed 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League run.
For the second straight season, the teams meet in the Western Conference semifinals, and for the second straight season, a season that began with expectations and promise will end too soon.
Kickoff: 10:00 p.m. Eastern, Friday, CenturyLink Field, NBC Sports Network
Recap of last year’s first leg in Salt Lake | And second in Seattle
On the Seattle Sounders:
- Memories from last year die hard, which explains why last year’s semifinal has been increasingly pertinent around Seattle. Then, the Sounders opened their postseason with a 3-0 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium, dooming them to another early playoff exit (Real Salt Lake went on to eliminate Seattle, 3-2).
- Seattle’s made four notable improvements from last year: Goalkeeper of the Year candidate Michael Gspurning is in goal; Swedish international Adam Johannson is at right back; former Bundesliga standout Christian Tiffert augments the midfield; and resurgent U.S. international Eddie Johnson spearheads the attack.
- Johnson, however, is questionable for Friday’s game, having picked up a hamstring injury Sunday in Los Angeles. If he can’t go, Sammy Ochoa will.
MORE: Still awaiting word on Eddie Johnson
- With Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales, Seattle’s attack will be potent regardless of Johnson’s health. The defending, however, remains a question. Seattle has the league’s second-best defensive record but is weak defending set pieces, something that will get worse in the absence of Johnson.
- So if Seattle’s defense is so weak, how are they so good at preventing goals? Much of the credit goes to Gspurning, but don’t under-estimate the contributions of Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans. Whether Evans or Tiffert partner Alonso on Friday, Seattle’s midfield duo to be tested by an RSL diamond that plays notoriously narrow. Whomever gets the call, be prepared for an overload.
- The bigger concern for Seattle was their inability to win important games. The Sounders went 1-1-1 in their late season Cascadia Cup matches despite the quality of opposition (Vancouver, Portland). A home loss to San Jose knocked them out of the Supporters’ Shield chase, while a defeat in Los Angeles on the season’s last day relegated them to third in the West.
On Real Salt Lake:
- While Seattle’s made a number of upgrades, Real Salt Lake returns largely the same team that started the first leg of last year’s semifinal. Andy Williams (retirement) and Robbie Russell (D.C. United) have moved on, but with Ned Grabavoy and Tony Beltran, RSL’s no worse off.
- With Seattle’s trouble on set pieces, Alvaro Saborio could be in for another big series. The Costa Rican international is coming off a 17-goal season and scored the first two against in last year’s semifinal.
- The key to Real’s attack, however, is Javier Morales. At his best, the Argentine midfielder is the league’s best playmaker. He’ll be Alonso’s number one responsibility.
- In defense, Real Salt Lake has the league’s best four-some (left-to-right: Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, Beltran), but the central pair has been troubled by Seattle’s tendency to play long and directly at them. Although Fredy Montero isn’t the league’s fastest attacker, the timing of his runs creates problems for RSL’s all-star duo.
- The last time RSL was in Seattle, they played the Sounders to a 0-0 despite playing an hour up a man. That’d take the same result on Friday, even if this month’s draw was another indication of Real Salt Lake’s troubles playing from the favorite’s perch.
Seattle’s not only failed to advance in the playoffs, they’ve never scored in a first leg. It’s not a long history (three years), but it’s still symptomatic. Too often, Seattle is passive – more reactive than imposing – an attitude that concedes the initiative despite their superior talent. In the regular season, that approach manifests in disappointing results against Cascadia rivals or letting Ricardo Salazar become something that defines a game. In the playoffs, it leads you to be pacified in the first 90 minutes.
That’s why Seattle finishing third may be a blessing. At home, they’ll come out aggressive, confront their demons, and force RSL onto the back foot. While Real often plays their best under such circumstances, Seattle’s a more talented team this year than last. They have the potential to redeem themselves.
The game in 100 words (or less): While one American star continues to earn more time on the pitch, another is making his presence felt as his side pushes for a playoff position. Jordan Morris’ 11 and 12th goals of the season were the difference for the Sounders on Sunday afternoon, propelling his side to within three points of the six spot in the Western Conference. Despite trailing early on, the Sounders stormed back with three second-half tallies and now have the postseason very much in sight. For the Galaxy, Bruce Arena’s group remains in third place in the West.
[ MORE: David Villa discusses MLS playoffs, Guardiola and more ]
Three four five moments that mattered
20′ – Keane smashes home header — Sebastian Lletget has played a key role for the Galaxy in 2016, and the midfielder’s cross was everything it should be to help put the the hosts out in front.
35′ — Van Damme own goal levels it up before halftime — Call it lucky but with the playoffs on the line, the Sounders need all the help they can get as the regular season winds down.
63′ — Morris stuns StubHub crowd — It’s safe to say the Sounders are happy Jordan Morris opted to play in MLS this season. The American striker not only knocked in his 11th goal of the year but this beauty of a finish also propelled the Sounders to within three points of a playoff spot.
73′ — Morris tacks one on for good measure — Was it as pretty as the first one? No. Was it timely? We’ll let you judge.
73′ — Alonso caps off win with screamer — He got a little help from the referee but Osvaldo Alonso made no mistake with this finish.
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Man of the match: Jordan Morris
Goalscorers: Robbie Keane (20′, 84′), Jelle van Damme (OG 35′), Jordan Morris (63′, 73′), Osvaldo Alonso (78′)
Antoine Griezmann was the difference for Atletico Madrid on Sunday as Atletico Madrid narrowly defeated 10-man Deportivo La Coruna, 1-0, to move up to third place in La Liga. The visitors were reduced a player prior to halftime, as Faycal Fajr was sent off in first-half stoppage time after picking up his second yellow card.
[ MORE: Schalke misery continues, Leipzig earns road point ]
A clinical first half performance from Villareal gave the hosts a 3-1 win over Osasuna, who remain at the bottom of the table. Alexandre Pato kicked off the impressive offensive display from the Yellow Submarine after five minutes, before Bruno and Nicola Sansone also tallied before halftime. Roberto Torres pulled one back for Osasuna before the break but it wasn’t enough to capture a share of the points for the road side.
After trailing inside of the opening half hour, Valencia battled back for a 2-1 win over Leganes. Alexander Szymanowski handed the hosts the lead after 21 minutes, but it was Nani and Mario Suarez that had the final say for Valencia as they wound up with the points on the day. The victory pulls Valencia out of the relegation zone temporarily, with the club currently sitting on six points in as many matches.
It looked like the two sides were on pace for a share of the points, but late stoppage time finishes from Giuseppe Rossi and Pione Sisto gave Celta Vigo a 2-0 win over Espanyol. Rossi, who entered the match in the second half, knocked Celta into the lead in the 91st minute, before Sisto doubled the lead two minutes later.
Everything about Manchester City’s start to the 2016/17 Premier League season has been right, and Bacary Sagna is already praising the squad’s biggest attacking threat.
[ MORE: Podolski displeased with Mourinho’s treatment of Schweinsteiger ]
With the Citizens already on 18 points and unbeaten in their opening six matches, the veteran defender was quick to note the importance of Argentine striker Sergio Aguero — who has already notched five tallies.
[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]
Aguero, 28, has posted nine straight double-digit goalscoring seasons, dating back to his time in La Liga with Atletico Madrid. Last season, the Argentine netted 29 goals across all competitions, including 24 finishes in the PL.
“He is one of the best players I have played with, not just because he scores goals but also because of his attitude – he always wants to give his maximum for his team and bring the team up,” Sagna said of Aguero’s effort.
“His two goals showed his class. He has such desire in front of the box, and in the box itself. He is great.”
The Jose Mourinho-Bastian Schweinsteiger relationship is a very puzzling situation for Manchester United, and most outsiders appear to be taking the German’s side.
[ MORE: De Bruyne sidelined a month with hamstring injury ]
Former teammate Lukas Podolski has chimed in on the matter, pointing out Schweinsteiger’s decorated career for both club and country.
[ MORE: Lewis Baker stuns Twente with long-distance golazo ]
Since the arrival of Mourinho this summer, the Portuguese manager has made it clear that the 32-year-old isn’t his plans, including dropping Schweinsteiger to United’s reserves.
Podolski recently spoke to Bild about the situation:
“When you look at the career Bastian has had, I can only say that what is happening there is simply not right for a player of his stature,” Podolski said.
“I do not know what Mourinho has discussed with Bastian. But is clear that it is not okay to drop someone like Basti to the reserves.
“A coach should always keep his door open to all players, and especially to players like Schweini.”
While Schweinsteiger’s contract doesn’t run out until 2018, the volatile relationship between the Red Devils midfielder and Mourinho certainly looks to be one that won’t last much longer.