Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning (yellow) recorded another shutout against Real Salt Lake Friday. The Sounders play at RSL Thursday night in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest
MATCH:Seattle Sounders FC (15-8-11, 56 points, 2nd, MLS West; 0-0-1 playoffs) at Real Salt Lake (17-11-6, 57 points, 2nd MLS West; 0-0-1 playoffs). TYPE: MLS Cup playoff. WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m., Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, UT. MEETING: 10th (regular season, RSL leads 3-2-4). LAST 10: Sounders 4-2-4; RSL 4-3-3. TV: KONG 6/16, ROOT Sports. RADIO: 97.3 KIRO FM; SPANISH: KOMO2 (Comcast Ch. 114) and La Gran D 99.3 FM.
The good news for the Sounders is that they will have leading scorer Eddie Johnson available for the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals against Real Salt Lake Thursday night. The bad news: RSL still has Nick Rimando in goal. The Sounders have had four cracks at squirting the ball past Rimando this season and have done nothing but shoot blanks.
If Johnson and the Sounders can't find a way to beat Rimando and RSL Thursday night, their 2012 season will end, just as the club's last three playoff ventures have ended, with a first-round ouster.
Seattle and Real Salt Lake played to a 0-0 draw at CenturyLink Field last Friday. Under the two-leg format, if the aggregate score is still tied after 180 minutes, 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. Seattle and Real Salt Lake have played to three consecutive scoreless draws and neither club has scored in the last 309 minutes of play. Overall, Seattle has not scored against Real Salt Lake in four consecutive matches and five of the past six back to last season.
Seattle's chances of getting a goal obviously increase with Johnson, who scored a team-high 14 times during the regular season, returning to the lineup after missing Friday's match with a strained his left adductor (hip) muscle.
Seattle's chances of scoring further increase, according to coach Sigi Schmid, with Johnson and Fredy Montero, who has never scored a playoff goal, playing together.
"We've always said that when Eddie and Fredy are on the field together it helps them both, because you can't key on one or the other," said Schmid. "With just Fredy being out there, obviously they (RSL) were able to key on him a little bit more."
A key issue for the Sounders is the availability of midfielder Mauro Rosales, who strained a hamstring against RSL Friday.
The Sounders have been the most successful road team at Rio Tinto Stadium since entering the league in 2009. Just one other MLS team, the San Jose Earthquakes, has matched Seattle's record of 1-1-2. The Sounders further sport the longest undefeated streak at Rio Tinto Stadium (1-0-2), with the lone loss coming in 2009.
"It's going to be a close game and it's going to be a battle. We're confident about it," added Schmid.
On the other hand, Salt Lake is 3-1-1 at home in playoff competition, and Seattle has not recorded a road playoff win in four seasons. The Sounders have lost three previous postseason away matches, including a 1-0 overtime loss to Houston in 2009, a 2-1 loss to the L.A. Galaxy in 2010 and 3-0 setback to Real Salt Lake last season.
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.
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 is led by Alvaro Saborio, third in MLS with 17 goals, including two hat tricks and five 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 12 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 23 playoff games dating to 2003, and has logged every playoff minute for RSL over the last four years.
Goalkeeper Rimando, who wound up with a cut on his brow and a broken nose after a collision with Seattle's Christian Tiffert, finished fourth in MLS with a 1.06 goals against average and T2 with 12 shutouts. The 33-year-old has played in 25 playoff games with three teams dating to 2001, and holds a career 10-8-7 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.
In the MLS playoffs Wednesday, upsets rocked the playoff brackets, eliminating each conference's top seed. In San Jose, the Earthquakes fell to the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Galaxy by an aggregate 3-2. The Galaxy, led by two goals from Robbie Keane, won Wednesday 3-1 after the Earthquakes, winners of the MLS Supporters Shield, won the first leg 1-0.
In the East, No. 5-seeded Houston eliminated Sporting Kansas City by a 2-1 aggregate. Houston lost Wednesday 1-0, but won 2-0 in the first leg. The other Eastern semifinal, D.C. United at New York, was postponed to Thursday by the heavy snowstorm that blanketed the Northeast.
The defending champion Galaxy advance to the West finals -- for the first time, also a home-and-home aggregate series -- against the Sounders-RSL winner at 6 p.m. Sunday in LA. Since the Sounders and RSL are seeded higher than the Galaxy, the winner hosts the second leg either Nov. 17 or Nov. 18.
The MLS Cup is played Dec. 1 at the home of the club with the highest seed.
SOUNDERS PROBABLE LINEUP: Goalkeeper -- Michael Gspurning. Defenders -- Adam Johansson, Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, 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), Patrick Ianni (calf strain). Probable -- F Eddie Johnson (adductor strain).
LAST VS. REAL SALT LAKE (Nov. 2): The teams battled to a scoreless draw in the first leg as goalkeepers Michael Gspurning and Nick Rimando made a combined nine saves. Gspurning made four saves and recorded a shutout in his first career MLS playoff match. In the 23rd minute, he came off his line to smother a Ned Grabavoy breakaway, making a slide tackle at the edge of the box. The Austrian made two crucial second-half saves on Alvaro Saborio headers, first diving to smother a shot in the 47th minute, then diving hard to his right to cover up a strong header in the 85th minute. Rimando made five saves en route to his 10th career playoff shutout, including four in the opening 45 minutes.SERIES: Dates to March 28, 2009, when the Sounders defeated RSL 2-0 at home on goals by Nate Jaqua and Fredy Montero. Sides have met four times this season with Real Salt Lake winning 1-0 May 2, followed by three scoreless draws.SOUNDERS STATS / NOTES
- FINAL REGULAR-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.
- FINAL 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.
- Alonso is the only Sounders player to play every minute of the club's first seven playoff matches. Alonso has played the most regular season minutes in club history (9,660), and is tied with Fredy Montero for the most regular season starts (109).
- Seattle had 24 wins across all competitions in 2012, more than any other club in MLS. Kansas City had 22 wins and San Jose 21.
- 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)|
|2012||Nov. 2||Seattle||D||Sounders 0, RSL 0|
|Nov. 8||Salt Lake|