The Seattle Sounders were aggressive and inventive. They were organized and creative. They were absolutely dominant and just about everything that Sigi Schmid could have wanted. But the Sounders did have one problem. They didn't have Nick Rimando.
The Real Salt Lake goalkeeper was absolutely sensational, making save after save, some of them jaw dropping, to steal a scoreless draw from the Sounders in the first leg of the teams' Western Conference semifinal. The two teams will now head to Salt Lake City for Thursday's second leg with pretty simple stakes -- the winner goes on and the lower's season comes to an end.
After a but of a slow start, the Sounders found their footing about five minutes in and controlled the match the rest of the way. They earned eight corner kicks, seven in the first half, and were dangerous with seemingly every foray forward.
Seattle's aggressiveness finally looked like it would pay off when Sammy Ochoa got free and got a shot away that looked goal bound, but Rimando made a sensational save to push it just over the bar and on top of the net. Ochoa came right back, though, and once again looked like he had a goal, but just like last time, Rimando was there. He sprawled to paw Ochoa's shot wide of the post and Ochoa had been bested a second time.
Rimando wasn't done there, though. As Seattle kept hitting crosses, Rimando kept having to come off of his line to punch the ball away. They were not easy punches either, but Rimando was there to do it and in the second half he was also asked to come way out again to collect a long ball before the Sounders could get in alone on goal.
Salt Lake did have a few bright moments, usually through Javier Morals and Alvaro Saborio, but Michael Gspurning was up to the task. He got down to make a save from close range and denied Saborio late, while also commanding his box well, but he was no match for Rimando. On this night, nobody was as good as Rimando.
The only thing that could stop Rimando was a collision with Christian Tiffert that left him on the turf for seven minutes. The training staff treated him, apply a bandage next to his right eyes and the delay led to eight minutes of stoppage time, but the Sounders couldn't beat Rimando then either. He was too good and RSL was good enough defensively to earn a valuable away draw in the first leg.
While the Sounders certainly played well and were the better team, they have to wonder what they have to do to score in the first leg of a playoff tie. This is their fourth postseason and they have failed to score in the first leg each time. The first three all resulted in a second leg elimination, something they will try to avoid on Thursday, but if they go out it will likely be as much their inability to find the net in Seattle as it is any loss in Salt Lake.