Osvaldo Alonso led the 2012 Sounders with 2,688 minutes played. He'll start Friday for Seattle when it begins MLS Cup play against Real Salt Lake. / Wiki Commons
MATCH:Real Salt Lake (17-11-6, 57 points, 2nd MLS West) atSeattle Sounders FC (15-8-11, 56 points, 2nd, MLS West). TYPE: MLS Cup playoff. WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field. MEETING: 10th (RSL leads 3-2-4). LAST 10: Sounders 4-2-4; RSL 4-3-3. TV: KONG 6/16 and ROOT Sports. RADIO: 97.3 KIRO FM; SPANISH: KOMO2 (Comcast Ch. 114) and La Gran D 99.3 FM.
Thirty-four weeks after the start of the season, the Seattle Sounders start their run at the MLS Cup Friday night with the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals against Real Salt Lake. As the No. 3 seed, Seattle will host the first leg and play on the road in the second leg Thursday. The winner will be determined by aggregate goals.
"Obviously, we need to win at home and we need to get something on the road," said head coach Sigi Schmid. "We are at home first, last year it was the opposite, so we need to do the same kind of job that they did on us last year."
If the aggregate score is tied after 180 minutes of play, two 15-minute extra-time periods will be played in their entirety, followed by penalty kicks, if necessary. Considering the recent history of the Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake, extra time is a distinct possibility. Neither team has scored in the last 219 minutes of play this season.
Seattle's chances of scoring might have increased with the Sounders listing striker Eddie Johnson as a probable starter. Johnson strained his left adductor (hip) muscle in Sunday's 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy, but the injury apparently is not serious enough to keep him out entirely against Real Salt Lake, although Schmid hedged a bit on Johnson's availability.
"There's an outside chance on Friday and for sure the second game shouldn't be a problem," said Schmid.
If Johnson is unable to go, Schmid can slot Sammy Ochoa, David Estrada or Steve Zakuani alongside Fredy Montero.
The teams met three times in the regular season. The Utahns defeated Seattle 1-0 at CenturyLink Field May 12, and the sides played to scoreless draws July 4 and Oct. 17.
The Sounders, taking their fourth consecutive stab at winning the MLS Cup, have a pallid MLS Cup playoff history, suffering first-round ousters in each of the three previous seasons. Last year's first round held the same match-up, and each team won on the road. Real Salt Lake eliminated the Sounders on aggregate goals.
Overall, the Sounders are 1-4-1 in MLS Cup play, but if they can get past Real Salt Lake, they will face the winner of the San Jose Earthquakes-L.A. Galaxy series for the Western Conference title. The Galaxy beat Vancouver 2-1 Thursday night in the knockout round, although the Whitecaps led 1-0 until the 69th minute.
The MLS Cup will be decided Dec. 1 with single championship match hosted by the higher seed. The finalist with the most regular-season points will host the title match.
The Sounders finished with a 5-5-7 mark against playoff teams, and with a plus-seven goal differential. Three teams accounted for the five losses: Besides RSL, San Jose won all three match-ups and the Galaxy won the regular-season finale.
Despite the Galaxy loss that snapped a four-game unbeaten streak, the Sounders enter the MLS Cup playoffs with some momentum. Since the midway mark of the season, Seattle has gone 8-3-6 with a goal differential of plus-15 (30 goals scored, 15 goals against). Also, the Sounders scored multiple goals in eight of the final 17 matches while being held scoreless four times.
Real Salt Lake will also enter the match with momentum. RSL concluded the season with a five-game unbeaten streak, although it also ended the season with scoreless draws against Seattle and Vancouver.
"I think it can be a positive thing to have a little disappointment in our minds heading into the playoffs to give us a little bit of an extra edge," said coach Jason Kreis.
In RSL, the Sounders face one of their toughest matchups. In regular season meetings, RSL holds an edge in head-to-head at 3-2-4, as well as a 9-7 goal advantage.
Never has a regular-season match-up between the sides been decided by more than one goal and there have been three scoreless draws, including the two most recent meetings.
Odds of Seattle advancing past Real Salt Lake are not statistically favorable. There have been 36 home-and-home playoff series in league history. The lower seed has advanced just 14 times, meaning home teams have gone 22-5-9 in the second leg.
Real Salt Lake finished T7 in MLS with 1.35 goals per game and third with 1.03 goals allowed. The 2009 MLS Cup champions notched six road wins, including the 1-0 win at the Clink in May.
Real Salt Lake is led by Alvaro Saborio, third in MLS with 17 goals, including two hat tricks and five total multi-goal games. The Costa Rican led the club with three goals in the 2011 playoffs, including a brace against Seattle in the first leg.
Forward Fabian Espindola was second on the club with nine goals and seven assists, but has scored just one goal in 11 career playoff games. Javier Morales led RSL with nine assists to go along with three goals, and has a great postseason record with two goals and six assists.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman has played in 22 playoff games dating to 2003, and has logged every playoff minute for RSL (12 games, 1140 minutes) over the last four years.
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando was fourth in MLS with a 1.06 goals against average and T2 with 12 shutouts. The 33-year-old has played in 24 playoff games with three teams dating to 2001, and holds a career 10-8-6 postseason record with nine shutouts.
In addition to atoning for three previous playoff failures, the Sounders have another incentive against Real Salt Lake. Since the Sounders finished with the seventh-best overall record in MLS, they must advance to the MLS Cup final in order to qualify for the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League.
SOUNDERS PROBABLE LINEUP: Goalkeeper -- Michael Gspurning. Defenders -- Adam Johansson, Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni, Marc Burch. Midfielders -- Mauro Rosales, Christian Tiffert, Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso. Forwards -- Fredy Montero, Eddie Johnson.
REAL SALT LAKE PROBABLE LINEUP: Goalkeeper -- Nick Rimando. Defenders -- Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, Tony Beltran. Midfielders -- Will Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales. Forwards -- Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio.
INJURIES (Sounders): Out -- FW Babayele Sodale (ACL tear), DF Andrew Duran (ACL surgery). Questionable -- DF Leo Gonzalez (hamstring strain). Probable -- DF Patrick Ianni (calf strain), MF Andy Rose (adductor strain).
LAST MLS MATCH (Sounders, Oct. 28): Mike Magee scored in the 83rd minute, giving the L.A. Galaxy a 1-0 win over the Sounders. The Sounders lost leading scorer Eddie Johnson just before halftime with a muscle strain. Johnson nearly connected on a header in the 25th minute and Fredy Montero hit the left post in the 33rd minute. Robbie Keane almost scored twice for the Galaxy.LAST VS. REAL SALT LAKE (Oct. 17): Sounders played down a man for the last hour of the match following the ejection of defender Zach Scott, but came away with a 0-0 draw at CenturyLink Field. During a halftime TV interview, coach Sigi Schmid criticized referee Ricardo Salazar, saying, "'We have our 12th man in the fans and they (Real Salt Lake) have their 12th man in Ricardo Salazar. It's just a nightmare for us when he referees." MLS fined Schmid $2,000 and suspended him a game for those remarks.SERIES: Dates to March 28, 2009, when the Sounders defeated RSL 2-0 at home on goals by Nate Jaqua and Fredy Montero.SOUNDERS STATS / NOTES
- SEASON SUMMARY: Overall: 15-8-11. Last 5: D-W-D-W-L. Home: 11-4-2. Road: 4-4-0. Vs. East: 4-1-4. Vs. West: 11-7-7. March: 2-1-0; April: 2-0-1; May: 3-2-2; June: 0-2-2; July: 2-0-2; August: 3-1-0; September: 2-1-4; October: 2-1-1. Goals For: 51. Goals Against: 32. Differential: +19.
- MLS TEAM RANKS: Goals: 51 (5th). Goals Scored Avg.: 1.50 (5th). Goals Allowed Per Match: 0.97 (2nd). Shots: 439 (10th). Shots On Goal: 141 (13th). Fouls Committed: 442 (5th). Fouls Suffered: 438 (4th). Yellow Card Cautions: 53 (T10).
- Sounders 8-0-1 when leading at the half, 7-3-9 when tied at the half and 0-5-1 when trailing at the half.
- Sounders 14-0-3 when scoring first and 1-8-4 when conceding first.
- Sounders are one of three teams to qualify playoffs each of the past four seasons (also LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake).
- Seattle is 1-1-1 at home in playoffs with two goals scored and one goal allowed. Sounders had their best home season in club history in 2012, finishing with two more wins than any other season (11-4-2). Seattle posted its best home goal differential this season (+16), scoring the second-most and allowing the second-fewest home regular season goals in club history.
- Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning had a league-leading 0.73 goals against average, the third best in MLS history in becoming the first keeper from outside of the CONCACAF region to lead the league in goals against average. Gspurning was ranked second in winning percentage (.690), third in shutout percentage (38.0) and second in saves percentage (76.6).
- Forward Eddie Johnson set the club record with 14 goals, and Fredy Montero established a career-high with 13 goals, to go along with eight assists.
- Mauro Rosales matched his club record from last season with 13 assists, and Osvaldo Alonso led the team with 2,688 minutes played.
- CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: With its 3-1 win over CD Marathon Oct. 24, the Sounders have clinched the No. 3 seed in March's quarterfinal round. The Sounders finished the group stage undefeated for the first time. The other undefeated teams are Monterrey and Santos Laguna. The Sounders play Mexican side Tigres UANL, seeded No. 6 in the two-leg series. The Sounders play the first game on the road between March 5-7 and host the second game between March 12-14.
|Starts||Alonso 30, Evans 29, Parke 29, Montero 28|
|Goals||Johnson 14, Montero 13, Estrada 5|
|Assists||Rosales 13, Montero 8, Caskey 4, Evans 4|
|Shots||Montero 126, Johnson 72, Alonso 41|
|Shots On Goal||Montero 46, Johnson 25, Evans 13, Alonso 13|
|Fouls Caused||Montero 63, Johnson 40, Alonso 37|
|Fouls Suffered||Montero 68, Alonso 52, Johnson 46|
|Offsides||Johnson 33, Montero 24, Estrada 6|
|Corner Kicks||Rosales 73, Tiffert 31, Fernandez 16|
|Cautions||Alonso 8, Johnson 6, Montero 5, Scott 5|
|Ejections||Hurtado, Fernandez, Montero, Scott, 1|
|4/7||^at DC United||4:30||KING||D||0-0||2-1-1|
|5/9||^at FC Dallas||5:30||KONG||W||2-0||7-1-1|
|6/26||&at San Jose||7:30||Webcast||W||1-0||3-0-0|
|6/30||^at New England||4:30||KONG||D||2-2||7-5-5|
|7/15||^at New York||1:00||ESPN||D||2-2||8-5-7|
|8/5||^vs. LA Galaxy||6:00||ESPN2||W||4-0||10-5-7|
|8/8||&at Sport KC||6:00||GolTV||L||2-1||4-1|
|8/11||^at San Jose||7:30||KONG||L||2-1||10-6-7|
|9/2||^at FC Dallas||4:00||KING||D||1-1||12-6-8|
|10/21||^vs. FC Dallas||6:00||ESPN||W||3-1||15-7-11|
|10/28||^at LA Galaxy||6:00||ESPN||L||1-0||15-8-11|
|Year||Date||Site||W/L/D||Result (Sea. Goals)|
|2009||Oct. 29||Seattle||D||Sounders 0, Houston 0 (none)|
|Nov. 8||Houston||L||Houston 1, Sounders 0, OT (none)|
|2010||Oct. 31||Seattle||L||L.A. 1, Sounders 0 (none)|
|Nov. 7||Carson, CA||L||L.A. 2, Sounders 1 (Zakuani)|
|2011||Oct. 29||Sandy, UT||L||RSL 3, Sounders 0 (none)|
|Nov. 2||Seattle||W||Sounders 2, RSL 0 (Alonso, Neagle)|
|Nov. 8||Salt Lake|