In their last four meetings with Real Salt Lake, Sounders FC has been held scoreless.
It’s not as though goals have been aplenty in the series between the two clubs – Salt Lake has just one goal in their last five matches against the Sounders. However, if there is one thing the Sounders were able to do in their scoreless draw against RSL on Friday in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series, it was find scoring chances.
Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando finished the night with five saves, but the Sounders had several other opportunities to put a goal away only to come up empty.
Sounders FC forward Fredy Montero has a simple solution to the scoring woes.
“We are having chances,” Montero said. “So just put the ball in the net.”
With that, they go into the second leg of the series confident that they can exploit the weaknesses of the RSL defense and finally break through to the Western Conference Final with a victory.
KINGS OF THE CORNER
The Sounders scored five goals off of corner kicks in 2012 and were dangerously close to scoring in that fashion on Friday. In the 33rd minute, attempts by Sammy Ochoa and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado were turned away by Rimando, but only narrowly as he made reaction dives to knife the ball out of the air.
As it turns out, corner kicks were a focus for the Sounders going into the match, both offensively and defensively.
“We asked the team to be dangerous on set pieces in the first game, and we were. That’s something we have to do again,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s all about execution and we have to continue to execute well and create chances, and we’ll be OK.”
WIDE PLAY WORKS
The Sounders played 38 crosses into the box on Friday, with most coming from the wide players in the midfield and on defense. Because of Salt Lake’s diamond-shaped midfield, their outside midfielders play much more centrally than those for the Sounders, which means the Sounders are able to create 2-on-1 opportunities on the outside and get into position to play balls into dangerous positions.
While the Sounders had a lot of their success on the right side, they also got some quality service from Marc Burch on the left side, a trait that has earned him high marks in the left back role.
Continuing to channel pressure up the wings to create scoring chances for Eddie Johnson and Montero in the middle has proven beneficial against RSL before and should continue to do so on Thursday.
“We knew that our wide guys would get space—that our outside backs would get space to play and that our wide midfielders would get space to play. That was our plan going in, that we knew they could get space. We were talking about trying to get crosses in behind their defense, especially if they hold a high line,” Schmid said. “We wanted to get the ball to the wide channels because we knew that’s where there was space against them, just the way they play and the way they defend.”
FIND EDDIE JOHNSON
Johnson led the Sounders with 14 goals this season, but his hold-up play is also something Seattle lacked in their first meeting of the playoff series. Creating runs off of Johnson will mean more opportunities for Montero, but having Johnson on the end of all of those crosses and corners will certainly increase Seattle’s chances of breaking their hex against Salt Lake.
He may not be the simple answer, but if the Sounders continue to create chances with Johnson and Montero in the box, eventually, they are bound to nab a goal.
“When you’re creating chances, that’s the object of the game at the end of the day. Obviously, finishing that is the quality. Could Eddie Johnson have made a difference? Possibly,” Schmid said. “I’d be more concerned if we weren’t creating chances. I think there’s times where we have to do a better job in terms of moving their center backs.”
The Sounders and Real Salt Lake will meet at 7 pm on Thursday with live local television on KONG 6/16 and radio coverage on 97.3 KIRO FM. Regionally, the match will be carried on ROOT Sports while the national broadcast will be shown on NBC Sports Network.