The winner earns a spot in the Western Conference Final. The loser’s season is over. Expect both sides to go all out to try and win.
If it takes penalty kicks to decide a winner, then so be it. There will be no runner up prizes or moral victories on Thursday. With that said, how do things look?
Slight Edge RSL
Real should be treated as slight favorites in this match. The side is at home, where they play very well, and will face an opponent in Seattle that they historically play very well against.
Seattle’s offensive strategy of crossing balls into the box from the wings is Salt Lake’s defensive strength. Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, and Kwame Watson-Siriboe are all excellent at defending these crosses. That’s why Seattle hasn’t scored on Salt Lake in four matches this season, no matter who was playing Centerback at the time.
In the event of a penalty shoot-out, Salt Lake will be a heavy favorite. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando is undefeated in shoot-outs and led Salt Lake to two shoot-out victories in the 2009 playoffs en route to an MLS Cup MVP award. This puts an added pressure on Seattle to score that will open things up.
Also, Salt Lake, with the exception of Fabian Espindola, appears to be pretty healthy. There are players with various knocks, but the side should be able to suit up its first XI or something very close to it on Thursday.
Seattle Still Threatens
Still, the Sounders should not be taken lightly. As a side, they have plenty of talent, and they defeated Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium just last season.
Sigi Schmid is an excellent coach with 2 MLS Cups under his belt. He knows how to get the best from his teams and he has done so in the playoffs before.
Moreover, Seattle’s big-spending bosses are losing patience with the young side’s playoff failures. I expect Seattle will play desperately as the side may see some changes if they fail again to win a playoff series.
Goals at a Premium
These teams have played four matches this season with a total of one goal scored, so nobody is expecting an easy first goal. That said, if one team gets ahead, the match should open up quite a bit and multiple scores might follow.
I picked a 0-0 draw in Seattle and a 2-0 win for Salt Lake in Utah before the series started. I’m standing by that. I think Salt Lake gets a goal, which opens things up for a second during Seattle’s desperate last moments.