It’s not often that a team walks in to Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah and leaves with a victory.
The Sounders FC, however, know that feeling and hope to do it again as they meet Real Salt Lake in the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal series on Thursday night at the RSL fortress.
There, RSL has gone 42-8-16 in MLS play since opening the stadium with a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls on October 9, 2008. Four years later, RSL is still dominating at home, though they have shown some vulnerability, with opponents winning four times in 2012, as many as in the previous 49 matches there, combined.
Seattle’s win there last season was a historical one, at that.
At that point, Salt Lake was on an MLS record 29-match home unbeaten streak. But goals from Patrick Ianni and Lamar Neagle gave the Sounders the improbable 2-1 win last season. For as great as that moment was, their 3-0 loss in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series there was equally disappointing.
“I think we came out and just didn’t play well,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “We didn’t play well and they punished us early and got on top and we could never grab the game back. We were a little bit naïve in how we tried to grab the game back, but I think we learned from there and we’re a better team than we were last year when we played them in the playoffs.”
That anomaly in the all-time series is a clear outlier in what have been tight matches between the two teams at Rio Tinto Stadium. No team in MLS has more points at Rio Tinto than the five points the Sounders have earned there.
Their win in the rain on May 28 last year, along with their consistent success throughout their four years, particularly in knockout tournaments, gives them confidence heading into Thursday’s second leg.
“We believe in our quality, we know they’re a very good team, as well, but we know we’ve been able to go there in the past and play good games and get good results and that’s our expectations,” Schmid said. “We have high expectations of ourselves, we know it’s going to be a close game – it’s going to be a battle – and we’re ready to go.”
Kickoff is slated for 7 pm Pacific Time with local television coverage on KONG 6/16, regional coverage outside the Seattle area on ROOT Sports and the national broadcast on NBC Sports Network.