SEATTLE – It’s a bit counterintuitive that two of the best-regarded attacking teams in the league have produced just one goal in three meetings this season.
But that’s exactly the case for the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, foes who will meet on Friday night (10 pm ET; NBC Sports Network, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com) in the Western Conference Semifinals. Both teams have won admirers for the way they attack the game, and yet both have repeatedly come up with a whole lot of nothin’ when faced off against each other.
“I go in there not wanting [Seattle] to score any against us, and I think they do the same thing,” said RSL ‘keeper Nick Rimando after Thursday’s training session, his team’s last before the series gets underway. “We pride ourselves on defense and they do, too.”
And with pride has come production – or the lack of it for opponents, anyway. Seattle allowed 33 goals this season, second best in the league. RSL were third with just 35 conceded.
So if it ends up a stylish, yet ultimately unsatisfying 0-0 draw?
“That’s gonna be the result that we’re OK with up here,” Rimando said.
RSL and Seattle have come about their defensive successes in similar fashions. Neither team employs high pressure, a la Sporting KC, with any great frequency. Instead, both are at their best when they’re controlling the tempo of the game, limiting the opponent’s looks simply by holding onto the ball for long stretches of play.
“They generally try to play the same way that we do,” Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers explained. “With that diamond in midfield – I think we do it better than anybody else, and I think it’s gonna be a good matchup.”
The key, of course, will be who finishes the few chances that actually turn up. Seattle gave up just 122 shots on goal this season, second best in the league. RSL’s 124 were third. Michael Gspurning, Seattle’s ‘keeper, led the league with a .71 goals against average this year. Rimando’s 12 shutouts were tied for second.
Beyond the stats, perhaps most concerning for RSL fans is the fact that their side has gone three competitive games without scoring.
Or maybe not.
“It’s nothing that I’m worried about, not at all,” said RSL head coach Jason Kreis. “For me it’s just a little bit of relaxation in front of goal. The chances were there.”
But chances or not, even a former MVP forward knows you can’t lose if you don’t concede.
“What people aren’t talking enough about are the shutouts, and what we’ve done over the last six or eight games – that’s what you need to be successful in the playoffs.”