Real Salt Lake holds off furious Seattle rally to reach West Final

SeattleRSL (Getty)

By JASON MITCHELL

SEATTLE, WA – The Seattle Sounders pressed hard for more than 90 minutes Wednesday night, but injuries, a gritty effort from a Real Salt Lake side that was also shorthanded, and a 3-0 aggregate hole proved too much to overcome.

Real Salt Lake watched that three-goal cushion fade quickly to one-goal cushion, but RSL fought off a furious late-game charge by the Sounders, who dominated possession and created countless chances, but never could find a third goal and instead settled for a 2-0 second-leg victory that meant an RSL series victory.

The series win sends Real Salt Lake to the Western Conference Final, where they will face either the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday at Home Depot Center or the New York Red Bulls at Rio Tinto Stadium on Monday.

"Four days ago we're just completely dominant and tonight we're back on our heels and being dominated," Kreis said. "In the span of four days, sometimes that can be difficult to figure out but our guys battled through and believed in each other and kept at it and kept their nose down through some very, very difficult play, difficult decisions by the referee and a difficult atmosphere. 

"But we move on and we'll look for a better performance in the next round."

RSL played without starting centerbacks Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, who were both injured, but it looked as though the visitors would be able to stop the Sounders vaunted attack. Especially when Sounders starters Alvaro Fernandez and Brad Evans were forced to leave the match in the first half with injuries.

Seattle eventually got going though, Neagle all but guaranteed a dramatic finish when he slid a shot past RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando in the 61st minute for Seattle’s second goal. Fredy Montero recorded the assist, deftly finding Neagle alone by the far post to send the capacity crowd at CenturyLink Field into delirium.

A penalty kick goal by midfielder Osvaldo Alonso opened the scoring just minutes earlier, dramatically changing the atmosphere both on the pitch and in the stadium. The penalty kick was set up when referee Jair Marrufo issued a yellow card to defender Tony Beltran for taking down forward Mike Fucito in the box. Alonso fired the penalty kick low and down the middle past Rimando, who hesitated just a moment too long before reacting.

The goal gave the Sounders just under 30 minutes to find the series equalizer, but it would prove a task too tall. Seattle sent wave after wave in attack in a thrilling half of soccer that had RSL defenders scrambling, but Rimando recorded three key second-half saves and a makeshift RSL defense missing Olave and Borchers managed to hold on.

After an erratic season that rarely saw RSL at full strength or in top form, the Claret and Cobalt are looking much like the team that won the MLS Cup in 2009 and took Monterrey to the brink in the 2010-2011 CONCACAF Champions League final.

Jason Kreis reconstructed his defense, starting Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert at centerback and inserting Tony Beltran at left back. The unit held up well in the first half, but began giving up chances in droves in the second half.

It wasn't a memorable performance for an RSL side that looked so good in the first leg, but the game will give Real Salt Lake something to work on heading into the Western Conference Final.

"I think that in some ways it may have been good that we didn't play that well tonight, to get our feet back on the ground and to say to a team that won the game 3-0 that that was probably the peak of our peak, and this may be the low of our low," Kreis said. "So we need to perform somewhere in the middle this weekend."

Already heading into the night without key midfielder Mauro Rosales, who reinjured his right knee in the regular season finale, the Sounders lost midfielders Alvaro Fernandez (hamstring) and Brad Evans (ankle) in the first 20 minutes of the match. Schmid substituted Neagle and Roger Levesque for the injured players, but the substitutions hampered his flexibility down the stretch.

The Sounders spent much of the first half in the attacking third but couldn’t find a goal despite multiple chances. Montero was left unmarked just yards from the goal in the seventh minute, but sent a header wide right. In the 36th minute, defender Jeff Parke fired a rocket from distance into a seemingly empty net, but Beltran blocked the goal mouth with a leaping header.

Seattle looked shockingly flat and uninspired in Saturday’s embarrassing 3-0 loss in Utah, so it was no surprise to see Schmid shuffle his lineup Wednesday. Fucito reclaimed a starting forward spot from Sammy Ochoa. Neagle, who started wide right in place of Rosales Saturday, sat for Evans, while Erik Friberg assumed Evans’ starting position in the central midfield.

The changes nearly produced the comeback, but in the end Seattle's season ends the same way it has the past two seasons, with a conference semifinal exit.

The loss also marks the end an illustrious career for Kasey Keller, who recorded a critical late save in his final match before retiring.

“It’s been a helluva three years,” Keller said of his time with Seattle. “It’s been an honor to come home and play for something as cool as the Sounders have become and were from the first minute.”

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54 Responses to Real Salt Lake holds off furious Seattle rally to reach West Final

  1. Kejsare says:

    Props to Keller.

    Now about that 3 year plan to win the MLS Cup or bust? Major roster changes on the horizon?

  2. cajun says:

    As lackluster as Seattle looked in earning every bit of their 3-nil loss at Rio Tinto, RSL looked even worse at the CLink and frankly were lucky to advance. They got thoroughly dominated last night and for not a Save of the Year IMO from Beltran in the first half, this match goes into overtime at the very least if not a Seattle 3+ goal win to advance. Kudos to Seattle for not giving up despite the extremely long odds, and nearly pulling it off and best of luck RSL in the next round.

  3. poo says:

    Sure was an exciting game to watch. Seattle lost their steam when they took Fucito out – that guy is balls to the walls energy.

  4. Cholmondeley Warner says:

    Agreed RSL were awful last night but the Seattle penalty was ridiculous, if you give penalties for that we should be getting 10 a game.

  5. Cleartheball says:

    Well done Seattle. 90 minutes of effort. Montero’s effort in the 7th was not a header. It was also offside (but not called). Poorly refereed game, but the result was fair. If not for Beltran’s ridiculous save, and the totally ridiculous PK, it still would have been 2-0. Overall, I really like this Sounders team. Alonso is still a complete a$$ in every way, though.

  6. lassidawg says:

    Yes there will be roster changes. Theoretically they will get Zakuani, rosales, and OBW back.

    The Sounders will be fine, they ran into the toughest draw in the first round and if not for having to use 2 subs in the first 20 minutes may have advanced.

  7. lassidawg says:

    I would agree, but if you put your hand on a guys shoulder as he is trying to advance in the box you put yourself at risk for being called.

    Fucito is the last guy that would dive, and I think he was a bit suprised there was a whistle.

  8. AC says:

    THANK YOU Kasey Keller. Too bad it ended short.

  9. RSL Fan says:

    Man-0-man.

    As an RSL fan, I watched a game that was something else entirely all together… I lost my finger nails – completely gone. I lost 10 lbs from sweating it out. I now have an ulcer. I have leg crams still this morning. I couldn’t sleep from the stress I had to endure. My nice chair now has two permanent hand marks from gripping the arms. I almost schat myself – twice. I might have even developed some strange ailment that they will never be able to diagnose. I was so tired I could not stand up after the game was over.

    Thanks!

  10. psu2dcu says:

    As a neutral, over the 2 games I saw Seattle as the better team. Still, RSL did what they needed to advance.

    RSL’s 2 makeshift centerbacks had a heck of a game given the complete domination of possession by the Sounders.

  11. georg says:

    Salt Lake needs to be alot better to win Sunday in L.A. or Monday at Rio Tinto if they want to continue their run. Hats of to Seattle for showing up and playing tuff soccer.

    RSL needs Olave and Borcher’s back, total lack of confidence in last nights back four killed the posession game for Salt Lake.

  12. Charles says:

    Who is the moron that decided a two leg series is the way to go for MLS playoffs ?

    Does Seattle win 3-0 at home if they host the first game and then lose 2-0 in the second….probably.

    There should be a third game.

  13. Poo says:

    I like the format quite a bit…3 game series is way too long. One game means your team is out of the playoffs and you dont get a home playoff game. This is one of the few things that is right with the playoff system.

  14. FlyMaster says:

    …and then in the third game it’s back to the home field advantage you’re trying to negate. Your solution isn’t a solution.

    If you really want to minimize the home field advantage then you have to play several matches in a series—as in NBA—which is simply impossible in a sport like soccer.

  15. Oog says:

    Very intense game. RSL fell apart at the seams and I thought for sure it was headed to extra time. Great effort by Seattle who dominated RSL. Save of the year by Beltran, completely ridiculous! Schueler will wind up being a great CB with some more experience. RSL showed that they are definitely their best when they play possession soccer, they fall apart when they hunker down. I felt just as stressed watching that game as I did during the ’09 final!

  16. Bandito says:

    People have criticized the playoff system and playoffs in general but the fact is that these are the very best and most entertaining games of the year. If we just granted the Supporters Shield winner the title we would be deprived of all this intensity. Playoffs are awesome and there is nothing like the drama of aggregate scoring. I wish the conference championships were aggregates as well although I am in favor of a one game cup final. Just look at the drama over the past week in every playoff city. It’s fantastic. Long live MLS Cup playoffs!!!!

  17. Zac says:

    This idea that we can compare who the better team was over the two legs is stupid. I’ll be the first to admit that RSL looked like crap last night, but don’t you think that the primary reason for the “wave after wave” of attack can be chalked up to RSL’s gameplan and state of mind about where they stood going into the game? If you want to more objectively compare who the better side was, at least in my mind, you need to look at the first leg of the series when both teams came in fighting on equal footing and with the same mindset.

  18. giaco says:

    Congrats to Seattle for finally winning a playoff game. I’m even more elated that it counted for nothing.

  19. Zac says:

    Seattle fans, just know that we RSL fans can understand your feelings this morning. We had an almost identical experience last year. We were the best team most of the year, had great success in other tourneys, received the worst possible matchup with FC Dallas as the #2 seed in the first round. We also paid the price by playing our first game on the road and were eliminated prematurely. It sucks but it is what it is. Better luck next year.

  20. cajun says:

    Playoffs are fine. A match-up of 2 of the best 3 teams in MLS in the 1st round is where it becomes absurd. Especially in a balanced schedule. Garber’s circus act for the play-off format this year is a joke and an embarrassment for all concerned.
    This series was more deserving of the finals than this.

  21. Gnarls says:

    Disagree. I’m not a Seattle fan at all, but the penalty was deserved. Fucito had a clear opportunity. The ball was between him and the net, RSL dudes were all behind him, and then he was held back. Clear penalty.

  22. Kevin_Amold says:

    I completely agree it wasn’t a dive. It just seemed to me that he was doing the exact thing that was being done to him at the same time. Really soft penalty.

  23. The 10 says:

    Fucito hooked Beltran with one arm and had his other arm in Wingert’s back. He initiated more contact than he received – super soft PK.

  24. Gnarls says:

    I hate the current playoff format. Home field advantage is a ruse when a team has to travel thousands of miles for the first leg. At least Seattle and Salt Lake are only a time zone apart. NY-LA is my case in point. Whatever, it is what it is.

  25. Tim says:

    No more than Fucito had his arms around the RSL players keeping them from running to it. It went both ways. It was an extremely soft foul. Especially considering what Seattle was doing to RSL on their corner kicks.

  26. Rain on a picnic says:

    This was a lousy game is some ways. Most of the game was played on one side of the field.

  27. What? says:

    Go watch the replay. The slow motion replay is at the 5 minute mark on the highlight video on the MLS site. Wingert was in front of Fucito the entire time. Fucito initiated just as much contact as he received. Should have been a no call.

    That said, Seattle did well to try and make it a series after that 3-0 beat down in SLC.

  28. Matt C in Tampa says:

    I watched as a nuetral leaning towards RSL. But i must say, as much as I have tons of respect for Seattle..and particularly the fans who pack that place, i could not watch the game beyond 1/2 time. That field so affects the play that i couldn’t watch anymore. This would mark the 4 or 5th time this season that i’ve tried to watch a Seattle game.

    Is that any movement towards putting grass in? Please say yes. the quaility players and exceptional fans deserve better.

  29. Curtis says:

    Lets look at the numbers. 1st game: SOG 11-0, Score 3-0. 2nd game: SOG 9-1, Score 2-0. Those numbers seem to show that RSL was better over the 2 games, not “lucky to advance”.

  30. Cram says:

    Most of you are completely missing the reason he reason this game was so one sided and it’s because they were playing n cement in a down pour. These two variables completely negated RSL’s possession game. All you have to do is watch the game and see how even in the first half Seattle was throwing long balls into the box rather then try to work possession close to goal. If you don’t believe me go watch the game again and see how many bad touches there were by both teams.

    With a three goal lead Rsl played afraid to make a mistake, and the sounders were able to play with reckless abandon. When you combine these factors then you start to understand why the game went down the way it did. As for he playoff system you should get some benefit from home field advantage and the way you do that it is with away goals. Give away goals more wait and the result from the first game means a lot more, and more often then not all you need is one goal if in a loss.

  31. Ricky B. Free says:

    That game was tough to watch. They kept playing lobs for most of the game. You can say that Seattle lost most of their skilled players, but you cant have a RSL depleted defensive backline and make it easy on them by playing lobs.

    I hope that teams start playing the ball on the ground even if it is a playoff game.

    Sure the game had energy and intensity but lacked in quality.

    I just hope that this years MLS Champion plays a good style of soccer unlike last years Champion.

  32. Ricky B. Free says:

    I agree with you, I want to believe that yesterday’s game was due to the field and not to the teams skill set.

  33. cajun says:

    Matt C: What makes it even more frustrating is that way back in 1997 when the referendum came out to the voters on building the stadium, it barely won and many people up here rightfully believe that the promise of it being a natural grass field for both the Seahawks and a future MLS team is what swayed a close vote into it passing. Unfortunately after all was said and done and since there was no MLS team on the immediate horizon at the time, Paul Allen and First and Goal along with the Stadium Authority gave in to the cheap(er) turf. The Seahawks don’t seem to care one way or the other and since they are the primary tenants and sell out all their games, this is where we are despite the empty promises way back in 1997. Hopefully with the success of the Sounders right now as a money maker, this changes within a couple of years. It certainly is a pathetic eyesore and really not worthy of being played on for either the Sounders or Seahawks.

  34. Aaron says:

    Too funny. Sounders fan here, and went through the same exact thing. I think my wife thinks I’m crazy. I was beating my couch as if it had violated me in some way, and woke my kid up with my screaming.

    Oh well, at least we made it a fight.

  35. Seattle Steve says:

    As a Seattle fan even I have to admit that was a VERY soft PK after watching the replays. Unfortunatley, the officials don’t have the benefit of replay to make their decisions. RSL fans can take comfort that at least it didn’t affect the outcome of the series.

  36. peterjh says:

    I don’t believe the idea is to negate home field advantage with the two-game series, the ieea was originally that all tams making the playoffs get at least one game at home (has changed with the wildcards). If they were trying to completely negate home-field advantage, which makes no sense unless you want to make the regular season meaningless, they woud institute the away goals rule, as well. (The idea of the away goals rule is so the first team on the road doesn’t try and bunker for a 0-0 result. They don’t hav ethat in the MLS playoffs because the team hosting the second leg *should* have an advantage)

  37. fan of football says:

    Hilarious!

    Standing in the stadium last night, I was feeling the same things – just on the other side of the ball. Gotta love sports. Despite the loss I’m definitely proud to be a Sounders fan. They were damn close to finishing off a game that fans would never forget.

    I’m already excited for next year.

  38. marco says:

    Sigi had a very good year, 2nd best record in MLS. Sounders had a very poor draft, and lost three attackers, N’Kufo, Zakuani, and White.

  39. lassidawg says:

    So lucky is the wrong word, much like Seattle could have lost 6-0 Saturday RSL could have as well yesterday.

    They were lucky in the sense that Seattle would have won had twwo players not been knocked out in the first 20 minutes.

  40. lassidawg says:

    Guessing that RSL wasn’t innocent on corner kicks.

    Completely agree it was soft, but I can see why a ref called a Pk

  41. bryan says:

    no. a two game series makes sense.

  42. Kevin_Amold says:

    Agreed.

  43. lassidawg says:

    Everyone acknowledges the turf sucks, the turf is only two or three years old.

    Unfortunately there is no chance that turf will be replaced by Grass.

    A gras field wouldn’t survive in Seattle from the months of October to June or July. I tcould probably survive in the Spring, but in the fall with all of the football games and add the UW to that list next year.

  44. Casey says:

    Very exciting game. The Sounders gave it their all, but that 3-0 drubbing at Rio Tinto was just a bit too much to overcome. Best of luck to RSL against (most likely) Los Angeles.

    Props to the Seattle fans as well!

  45. Ned Smitty says:

    I was at the game and was surprisingly upbeat afterwards. I suppose that’s just by comparison to how dejected I was after the first leg. I don’t have a “right” solution, I do like the playoffs but I do have one problem with them. The first/play-in/wild card round is one game, the semis are one game and the final is one game. The quarter finals should be one game too. I’m not crying because Seattle would have hosted (which would have been nice unless they still sucked like they did in Rio Tinto), I just don’t like the inconsistency. Each round should be the same format – in my opinion.

  46. fan of football says:

    How about if we look at different numbers? Say shots instead of SOG. Game 1: RSL 19, SEA 10. Game 2: RSL 4, SEA 26. Now who appears the “better” team?

    I’m not saying SEA was clearly better than RSL and should be moving on, I don’t think that is the case at all. My point is that these 2 teams are very close in quality and it takes a few special plays in any given game to differentiate the 2. A few different bounces or different calls and the outcome could be very different.

    That being said, with the pressure they were under for the entire game, I do think RSL has to leave the field yesterday saying, “wow, we barely got out of here”.

  47. Clark says:

    Just because Seattle thrashed alot and shot a bunch of crap at the net doesn’t have any bearing on the quality they presented on their crap plastic pitch. Seattle and RSL aren’t close in quality, Seattle has very clear limitations at forward, they don’t have a true proven forward that can really finish. When Seattle plays well they are decent, when RSL plays well they are class… No comparison, sorry.

  48. chupacabra says:

    Three games isn’t enough. How about seven? Then make everyone wear pajamas, hand them bats, and call it the World Series.

  49. pdublu says:

    Nope. Don’t agree. Seattle played possession, they played the long ball, they did whatever they needed to but they did not play with reckless abandon. The played with energy, vision, and they kept a clean sheet. RSL had few answers. They bunkered and had a couple of counter attacks. Can’t blame the crappy turf or the rain. It affects both sides equally (even Seattle prefers playing on grass). That said, I’d say RSL completely stunned Seattle in Salt Lake, whereas RSL was prepared for what came their way Wednesday, if only just able to deal with it.

  50. FlyMaster says:

    You misunderstood. My point was *not* that the 2-match format is meant to negate home field advantage. Quite the contrary.

    My point was that *Charles’* goal was to negate home field advantage. He proposed the 3rd game as some kind of “solution” to ties where teams win only at their own home.

    My comment advocates for sticking with the 2-match format.

  51. pdublu says:

    “Decent” is an understatement. The two teams probably match up better than any in the league. Seattle has a more varied set of tools than Salt Lake (including a solid possession game) and they used them to garner more points, make more goals, compete in more tournaments, and win more silverware. That said, RSL is a very good side. They won this time. They earned it and don’t need to apologize for bunkering in this away leg.

    Ironically, Salt Lake, should they fall to take LA (assuming that’s their next game), could very well walk away with nothing in 2011, while Seattle’s strong season has them seeded high for the Open Cup and competing in the Champion’s League next year.

  52. Terry says:

    63 Points my man. Most goals in MLS by a ways. RSL is in the same area. Especially, before their collapse at the end of the season. But, come on! Give credit, where credit is due. We all know that the best teams usually get eliminated in the MLS playoff system.

  53. peterjh says:

    I’m not sure if you understand your own point, let alone Charles. While I don’t see a need for 3 games, I don’t understand how anyone could interpret his argument as wanting to negate home field advantage. He was arguing a third game gives more home field advantage to the team with the better record.

    If you are stating that RSL should have as much a home field advantage as Seattle, then I don’t think you understand my point or the idea behind MLS not having the away goals rule. (Though at this point I have no clue what your point is).

  54. Clark says:

    Credit for getting alot of points is fine. But if you can’t bring it when it matters, all of those points don’t mean much. I repeat, Seattle has no proven centre forward that can finish. They have some craft/industry in the midfield and a decent defense. Goalkeeping was their best position and that was wholly evident during the game at Rio Tinto. I didn’t walk away from Wednesday night thinking that Rimando stood on his head, I think he made a couple decents saves and should have stopped both the gift penalty and Neagle’s hit. On the other hand, had Keller not played out of his mind at Rio Tinto, it would have been 6-0. Had the refereeing been correct and Alonso been sent off, it could have been more. You guys got a bag of gifts in this series and still couldn’t capitalize. We recieved no gifts, everything we got was ours, we didn’t need the referee’s assistance to get our offense going.

    MLS tried awfully hard to get Seattle through, they love you guys because it is so well attended and a strong tv market. You normally don’t score against Salt Lake unless it’s a gift, the same thing happened in both of our regular season games this year, Olave gets sent off by Kadlicek for tugging on Fucito in the pouring rain, with Borchers a couple steps away. Seattle goes on to score two following the sending off, one of them a hit and hope wonder strike. Then in Seattle, Kadlicek gifts you again, a penalty this time and a sending off, you guys still can’t capitalize while playing on your absolutely atrocious pitch. Marrufo gifts you the first goal on Wednesday, with Fucito elbowing Beltran in the face and pulling Wingert to the ground, atrocious. The second was class, but should have been stopped. That being said, I love the spirit up there, love the team, I think the most pressing issue for your organization is playing on real grass instead of turf. It destroys the quality of the game and causes injuries, even your coach admitted that “we play on turf too much, we are all banged up”.