TUKWILA, Wash. — Going into the second leg of their Western Conference Semifinals on Wednesday (10 pm ET, ESPN2/Deportes, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), the Seattle Sounders will have a mountain to climb to advance past Real Salt Lake to the next round.
And, already down 3-0, where to start? According to goalkeeper and captain Kasey Keller, step one is simple: effort.
Once the game in Utah, started going against the Sounders, Keller thought the field players weren’t doing everything they could to defend. Specifically, the game tape showed that players weren’t making the defensive runs needed to cut down on Real Salt Lake’s opportunities.
“There are a whole lot of factors involved and we could talk here for a long, long time, but we didn't come in for the fight,” Keller said. “In the first 10 to 15 minutes, if you look back at the tape, you thought, ‘Maybe this is going to be OK.’ Then as it got a little bit more physical and a little bit harder, we just didn't compete all the way around.
“In the playoffs, you think that'd be first and foremost in your frame of mind in an away game, where whatever happens I'm going to run hard and tackle, and it wasn't there," added Keller.
Keller was at a loss to explain the lack of urgency. In single-game elimination scenarios, Seattle have been excellent this year, including four consecutive wins in the US Open Cup. In the CONCACAF Champions League, an overtime goal from Nate Jaqua in the preliminary round started another run of four consecutive victories, including an away win at Monterrey.
With those games in mind, Keller wondered if the thought of the return leg sapped some of the urgency from the team.
“We didn't step up and perform in a do-or-die manner,” Keller said. “That's probably the thing that's the most disappointing for everybody.”
But despite the setback, the Sounders players have said they can make up the difference. Erik Friberg, who earned his first 30 minutes of playoff action in relief of Lamar Neagle, acknowledges the tough task. The Swedish midfielder cites Seattle’s league-best 56 goals scored in the regular season as a reason Seattle might pull of a shocking comeback.
“Of course we’re really disappointed with the game we played, but now it’s just ‘score goals,’” Friberg said. “I think we have a good chance to do that. We scored a lot of goals at home all year, so it’s a chance.”
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com.