If you’re like me – or Sigi Schmid for that matter – Friday’s scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinal had you up late at night dissecting the 90 minutes of action to see what it will take to get the Sounders FC through to the Western Conference final for the first time in their four playoff appearances.
Here are some things we learned watching the match on Friday night:
1. Eddie Johnson was missed.
Some may point to Sammy Ochoa’s first-half header that was miraculously saved by Nick Rimando or second-half shot that he clipped over the crossbar as reasons why Sounders FC’s leading scorer was missed in the match on Friday. However, where he was missed the most was in the opportunities that he creates for Fredy Montero.
Montero, Seattle’s all-time leading scorer, finished the match without a shot attempt in large part because the pairing of Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Nat Borchers were able to shift so much of their attention to Montero.
“When Eddie and Fredy are on the field, it helps them both because you can’t key on one or the other,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “With just Fredy being out there, they were able to key on Fredy a little bit more.”
2. Nothing will come easy.
Statistically, the match was played about as even as it could. Both teams took 11 shots. Seattle had five on goal while Salt Lake had four. Seattle held the slight possession edge at 50.2%. Both teams spent most of the match passing on the ground while completing over 70% of their passes.
With two teams that play such disciplined and intelligent styles, goals will not be easy to come by – as evidenced by the one goal the teams have combined for in their four meetings this season.
“We don’t have much space in this kind of game,” midfielder Mauro Rosales said after the match. “Two similar teams with similar kind of players and it’s tough to play each other with two tough teams in the league. Today, we came out with good mentality and good character and it’s something we have to keep.”
3. The field was tilted to Seattle’s right.
Throughout the night, the Sounders put a lot of pressure on Salt Lake up the right side. And who can blame them with pinpoint marksmen Rosales and Adam Johansson going up the right side all night.
With Real Salt Lake’s diamond midfield, that opened up the outside channels for the Sounders to work.
“We knew that our wide guys would get space to play, so that was our plan going in,” Schmid said.
Of the 38 total crosses credited to Seattle in the match, 29 of them came from the right side. With the success they had on that side, they could continue that trend or balance it out with a more concerted effort up the left side on Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
4. Another effort like that will put the Sounders through to the Conference final.
Sometimes you just run into a hot goalkeeper. Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando put on an incredible display in sprawling out to make five saves to keep the match scoreless. If Seattle is able to put together a similar effort on Thursday in the second leg, it will take another Herculean effort from Rimando to keep them scoreless.
“I was happy with the chances we created. There were some things that we could have done better offensively and we’ll address those this week. It was one of those days where it just didn’t go in,” Schmid said. “It wasn’t a situation of a lack of trying or poor play.”
The Sounders will take the day off on Sunday, then return to the training grounds on Monday as they prepare for the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal on Thursday at 6:30 pm Pacific at RSL’s Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.