Much of the talk after Seattle's playoff opening draw with Real Salt Lake may focus on the inability of two of the league's top attacking teams to score against each other, playing to their third straight scoreless draw on Friday night.
However, the defensive efforts deserve much of the attention as Sounders FC extended its shutout streak against RSL to 309 minutes, and has held the Salt Lake side to one goal in the past five meetings.
On Friday, Salt Lake had 11 shots on the night, but only really threatened Seattle’s shutout streak on two occasions as the Seattle defense thwarted most of RSL’s efforts to breach the penalty area to create scoring chances.
“I thought we were pretty solid,” said Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid. “In the first half we ran into some problems by letting guys pop free into the top of (the defense) and we had to block some shots and so forth and we had to do a job with that.”
In the second half, top scorer Alvaro Saborio was left without his top strike partner after Fabian Espindola suffered a hamstring injury late in the first half. Saborio would get all three of his shots after halftime, but Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who led the league with a 0.73 goals against average, was up to the task with diving stops on his two shots on goal.
It continued a trend for Seattle that has seen them keep the dangerous trio of Saborio, Espindola and Javier Morales at bay.
“We’ve just done a good job getting after them and limiting their chances around the net. We put pressure on them, we get physical and we keep them turned facing away,” defender Jeff Parke. “They may have had too many crosses, but for the most part, I thought we did pretty well.”
Even with their shutout streak in tow, the Sounders know they have a tough task ahead of them, going into Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday against an RSL side that went 11-4-2 at home this year and last year had an MLS record streak of 29 straight matches without a loss at home - a streak snapped by the Sounders.
Paramount to that effort will be continuing to hold off the tandem of Saborio and Espindola, who combined for 26 goals in the regular season.
“They’re dangerous, so you can’t stop paying attention to them,” Parke said. “You have to always be aware of where they are.”
Thursday’s match at Rio Tinto Stadium will kick off at 6:30 pm Pacific. If the match remains even after 90 minutes, they will play a 30-minute overtime, followed by a penalty-kick shootout.