SEATTLE – The Seattle Sounders don’t have to deal with the Portland Timbers this year, but in Real Salt Lake, they know the opposition for their Western Conference semifinal matchup in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday (10 pm ET | FS1 in US; TSN1/4, TVAS in Canada) will present its own set of obstacles.
Matches between the Sounders and RSL, particularly in recent years, tend to be hard-fought, high-intensity battles, often decided by a single goal. Seattle’s 3-0 road defeat at Rio Tinto Stadium on Aug. 14, in which they fielded a heavily rotated lineup, represented one exception. But the last time the clubs met at CenturyLink back on April 6, the Sounders squeaked out a 1-0 victory thanks to an exceptional fadeaway volley from Nicolas Lodeiro for the game’s lone goal.
With that in mind, Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said his side is expecting nothing less than another dogfight on Wednesday, pointing to a couple of different factors after training on Monday that have made this such a traditionally competitive matchup.
“With veteran guys like Kyle Beckerman and then you add guys that have a lot of finesse, a lot of skill like [Albert] Rusnak, and then you have a big guy like [Damir] Kreilach, it makes life difficult,” Roldan said. “They’ve always been a team that has played well home and away against us. They’re just ready. They’re up for it and we have to match that intensity.
“If we match that intensity and use our talent, then we’ll be alright,” he added. “But it’s about matching that intensity first and foremost and taking care of our opportunities at hand. But they have quality players and they make life difficult for all the teams around the league. Quietly, too. They do it very quietly.”
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Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said that RSL’s unpredictability in the attacking end is another quality that can give the opposition trouble. Coming off a wild Round One victory over FC Dallas that saw Seattle ship three goals, it’s something the Sounders will need to be weary of to avoid a repeat of those defensive lapses against an RSL side with more experience and veteran savvy than FC Dallas.
“Kreilach and Rusnak are unorthodox, there’s not one real striker,” Schmetzer said. “They’re very flexible, very interchangeable. So it’s a very good attacking front four, that’s how they start. Then obviously they’ve got talent and experience in the middle of the field, so we’ll how they line up, we’ll see what their game plan is.
“But look, it’s going to be a 4-2-3-1 vs. a 4-2-3-1 and we’ll get after them and they’ll try and get after us and we’ll see if we can win the game.”
For the Sounders, the hope is that passing their first survival test against FCD will leave them equipped to handle the pressure and intensity that awaits on Wednesday, when emotions figure to be running high at a raucous CenturyLink and every play matters in the league’s new do-or-die single elimination format.
“The fact that we’re at home, I feel like we have a big advantage with our fans. So, we’re excited about it,” Roldan said. “The intensity, the fight that Dallas showed, we’re anticipating another game like that. If you anticipate a game like that, you’ll be ready for a fight, for a test.”