On Saturday, Seattle Sounders put in one of their worst performances of the season. They were thoroughly defeated by Real Salt Lake, who fielded their entire first choice starting XI for the first time since an April 5 match against Saprissa in CONCACAF Champions League. The result, a 3-0 win for the home side at Rio Tinto Stadium, was shocking at the time. In retrospect, RSL were universally considered to be the best team in MLS when their first XI was healthy. It was surprising and no one saw it coming, but everyone knew RSL were capable of that kind of performance.
Osvaldo Alonso and Fredy Montero, two MLS MVP candidates, were dominated by their counterparts on the other team, Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman. Morales looked fully fit for the first time since his return from a devastating leg break, while Beckerman returned from a suspension that he picked up three matches ago for a headbutt. Their brilliance, along with a great performance by Costa Rican international striker Alvaro Saborio, built a lead that appears insurmountable.
However, Seattle have hope! And not because of their fantastic home crowd, so please don't talk about the support willing the team to victory if they manage to win by three goals and force extra time. No, they have hope because both of Real Salt Lake's starting central defenders, Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, picked up injuries in the first leg. The team has not confirmed the status of either player, with full injury news to come on Monday.
Additionally, Seattle's third MVP candidate, Mauro Rosales, is expected to return to the team for the second leg. RSL would still need to fall apart or Seattle would have to be beyond brilliant for the 3-0 deficit to be overturned, but it's not totally inconceivable. If the team Seattle played on Saturday adds Rosales while RSL loses Olave and Borchers, Seattle suddenly have the better squad. RSL is deep enough that they should be able to managed a two goal loss or better result even without their two best defenders, but without them in the lineup, a three-goal Seattle win would no longer be stunning.
Real Salt Lake are very heavy favorites to advance to the Western Conference finals, but this tie is not over yet. This game is still going to produce some great football, and if Seattle can score early, a whole lot of drama. CenturyLink Field will be loud and filled with 36,000 wearing Rave Green on Wednesday night, and it'll be worth tuning in for that alone.
For more on the two teams leading up to the game, check out Seattle Sounders blog Sounder At Heart and Real Salt Lake blog RSL Soapbox. For more on the entire world of soccer and the rest of the MLS Cup Playoffs, check out SB Nation Soccer.