SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 02: Fredy Montero #17 of the Seattle Sounders FC battles Tony Beltran #2 of Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field on November 2, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Seattle Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake, 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs: RSL Sneaks Through

Real Salt Lake endured a battering to sneak past the Seattle Sounders and into the Western Conference finals

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Seattle Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs: RSL Advance on 3-2 Aggregate

It was a night of mixed results for the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, as the Sounders won this match 2-0, but RSL advanced to the Western Conference finals by winning by a 3-2 aggregate score. By the end of the game, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid was left holding his head in despair, indicating the belief the Sounders held to the very end in this game, despite the long odds.

The game was scoreless in the first half, although Jeff Parke's beautiful volley looked destined for the back of the net before Tony Beltran leaped into the air and cleared the shot with his head with RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando out of position. In the second half, it seemed like Seattle had little hope of getting back into the series, but a penalty on Beltran early in the half gave Osvaldo Alonso the chance to grab a crucial first goal for the Sounders, and the crowd pepped up immediately. Belief increased when the Sounders scored just a few minutes later, when Lamar Neagle scored on a beautiful pass from Fredy Montero. With a 2-0 lead and a half hour remaining, it seemed like the Sounders could manage the impossible. All of a sudden, RSL did not seem capable of stopping anything, and their lack of possession on the night meant they could not dictate the play.

In the end, the Sounders could not find an equalizer, and RSL advance. While Salt Lake played very well for the first 140 minutes of this series, they played pretty badly the last 40 minutes, and their seemingly invincible status has evaporated. They are a surely a dangerous team, but Seattle has provided a blueprint for the next team that will meet RSL. Still, if RSL can get their starting center backs healthy in time for the next round, they will undoubtedly be a challenge for either the Los Angeles Galaxy or New York Red Bulls. For Seattle, they can take small consolation from posting their first playoff victory in team history, even if they did not do enough to advance in the MLS Cup Playoffs. It is sad to see Kasey Keller leave the sport as a player tonight, but Seattle has to be optimistic moving into 2012.

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Seattle Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake Live 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs: Less than 10 Minutes to Score

With a crucial save by Kasey Keller on a breakaway by Fabian Espindola in the 79th minute, the pressure is almost unbearable, as Seattle are behind 3-2 on aggregate courtesy of a 2-0 lead in tonight's game against Real Salt Lake. Can the Sounders find a way to score the third and finish a miraculous comeback in the final minutes? Can RSL score one of their own to finish the deal and seal their passage to the Western Conference finals?

Seattle has held possession in the box quite a bit in the past few minutes, and RSL are playing an ice hockey-style of defending, where they will basically shift bodies to get a block on a shot from any angle. Although Seattle needs to make the best chances and not waste their time on low percentage chances, if they can provoke a handball on an RSL player in the box, they might draw another penalty. With time running out, they may need to resort to such desperate measures to get an equalizer.

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Seattle Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake Live 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Gets 2-0 Lead

The home team has finally stormed to life. The Seattle Sounders are finally on the board tonight, and in the 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs, courtesy of a penalty early in the second half. Osvaldo Alonso scored on a shot straight down the middle in the 56th minute, giving Seattle a goal to provide a spark of hope for the Sounders.

Seattle drew a penalty when Mike Fucito was grabbed and Tony Beltran handled the ball in the box in the 55th minute. Beltran was given a yellow card by referee Jair Marrufo on the play. Following the goal, which Rimando remarkably did not save even though he stayed in the middle of the goalmouth, Rimando received a yellow card for hanging onto the ball to waste time.

A few minutes later, Fredy Montero hit an excellent diagonal pass into the box to Lamar Neagle, who was left alone on the left. Neagle, the first substitute of the game for Seattle, hit a tightly angled shot to the far post in the 61st minute to score the second goal.

This is what Sounders fans and the neutrals who wanted to be entertained were looking for, folks. Can Seattle get another in the last half hour?

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Seattle Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake Halftime 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs: Scoreless at the Half

You can't say the Seattle Sounders didn't try in the first half. Despite holding the lion's share of possession in the first 45 minutes, the game remains scoreless, and Real Salt Lake are still leading on aggregate 3-0. While most of the action has been surrounding the Sounders so far tonight, RSL are doing what they need to in order to advance. They haven't held the ball much at all tonight, but they are pressuring Seattle relentlessly, even to the point that several Seattle players have been injured in the process. By mucking up the middle of the field and avoiding a red card to this point, RSL will be content to hold onto the lead.

Still, considering they have such a commanding lead, RSL are clearly aiming for a clean sheet in the series. While they struggled at times this season, they look like they are back in top shape and the return of Javier Morales to full fitness seems to have rejuvenated the team. If they can stop Seattle from scoring despite their best efforts, RSL will put the remaining surviving teams on alert: RSL can beat anyone on the way to the MLS Cup.

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Seattle Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake Live 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs: Beltran Makes Dramatic Save

It almost seemed like the Seattle Sounders had the moment of magic to possibly start clawing their way back into the series. In the 37th minute, after Nick Rimando punched a ball out of his way in front of goal, it magically bounced to a waiting Jeff Parke, who hit it on the volley and delivered a beautiful looping shot that looked sure to go into an open goal. But Tony Beltran came out of nowhere, and cleared the ball off the line in a leaping effort. Even if Seattle ultimately came up short, it would have been a small consolation on the night had Parke scored on the volley.

Then, Seattle scored on Fredy Montero's shot, but referee Jair Marrufo calls the goal back in the 43rd minute. Montero was judged to have fouled Nick Rimando by impeding him. The two players collided and Montero got a bloody lip and his goal disallowed for his effort. Looks like Seattle just can't get a break.

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Seattle Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake Live 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Make Another Substitution

In addtion to the substitution of Lamar Neagle for Alvaro Fernandez in the 13th minute, the injury woes keep piling up for the Seattle Sounders. Brad Evans has injured his foot or ankle and could not continue, being replaced by Roger Levesque in the 21st minute. With two substitutions in about twenty minutes, Seattle are in a nearly insurmountable position at this point, and will surely seek to make it to halftime without picking up further injuries or making their final substitution for the game as their primary goal.

Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake are not holding onto much possession, instead preferring to play on top of the Sounders and giving them little space to put a string of passes together. As a result, the game is mostly being played in the middle third, with the injuries and knocks to Fredy Montero, Evans and Fernandez taking place far from goal. RSL are playing with no flair, but they're playing effectively.

I suppose that Seattle is giving themselves as many obstacles as possible in order to make a comeback as incredible as they can. For now, they need to stay on the field and get a goal to even get started.

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Seattle Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake Live 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs: Fernandez Hurt, Cannot Continue

Alvaro Fernandez did not enjoy a good game Saturday against Real Salt Lake, and tonight his poor luck continues. He has suffered a hamstring injury and cannot continue, and Lamar Neagle has been substituted in his place in the 13th minute. While Neagle has played well at times this season, there's no question he is not of the same quality as Fernandez, and this will make Seattle's quest for a comeback even more difficult.

Meanwhile, the injuries are piling up for Seattle. Within the first few minutes of the game, Fredy Montero took a knock on the left ankle from Chris Wingert. Although he has carried on, he looks hobbled and is trying to play through it. Montero had a shot on a set piece a few minutes later, although he missed just wide on a gilt-edged chance that could have given Seattle the momentum they need to reverse the fixture. It will be very costly if Montero cannot continue and if Seattle's most creative player on the field tonight has to be substituted early in the match, especially after Fernandez has already been taken off. It seems like a tall task keeps getting tougher for the Sounders.

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Seattle Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake, 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs: Will RSL Pass to Death?

With Real Salt Lake heading into the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal match against the Seattle Sounders with a 3-0 lead, the expectation in the moments leading up to the game is whether Seattle can score early and often. For entertainment's sake, neutrals and Sounders' fans alike are rooting for a comeback. But Real Salt Lake have been very good at holding onto the ball and passing it around.

Especially considering the inexperience of tonight's center back pairing of the Chris Wingert and Chris Schuler (the "Chrises?"), Real Salt Lake will surely seek to hold as much possession of the ball as possible. While RSL are capable of dazzling with their passing, they are equally as capable of pinging passes back and forth near the center circle, willing the 90 minutes away. In addition to making up a significant deficit, it is up to the Sounders to grab possession away from RSL, and keep it away from the visitors all game. The more Kyle Beckerman and company have the ball, the more boring this game will be.

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Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake, MLS Cup Playoffs 2011: Lineups

Real Salt Lake has a 3-0 lead heading into the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal against the Seattle Sounders. It's a good thing, because their top two defenders aren't even available. Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave were both ruled out. In their place, RSL will be using a makeshift defense that will include Chris Winger at center back. Robbie Russell, Tony Beltran and Chris Schuler will be the other starters.

The Sounders will counter with a lineup that has a few changes from the first leg. Chief among them are Mike Fucito starting in place of Sammy Ochoa at forward and Erik Friberg entering the lineup as a central midfielder, with Brad Evans moving over to the right and Lamar Neagle moving to the bench.

Sounders starters: Keller; Gonzalez, Hurtado, Parke, Scott; Fernandez, Alonso, Friberg, Evans; Fucito, Montero. Bench: GK Bryan Meredith, D Tyson Wahl, D James Riley, M Lamar Neagle, F/M Roger Levesque, F Nate Jaqua, F Sammy Ochoa

RSL starters: Rimando; Russell, Schuler, Wingert, Beltran; Beckerman (c), Williams, Johnson, Morales; Espindola, Saborio. Bench: Reynish, McKenzie, Grabavoy, AAlvarez, Gil, Warner, Paulo Jr

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Seattle Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake, MLS Cup Playoffs 2011: Osvaldo Alonso Needs To Step It Up

The Seattle Sounders had an incredible 2011 season, churning out win after win. They picked up yet another U.S. Open Cup title and thrived in CONCACAF Champions League play. Much of that success could be attributed to Osvaldo Alonso, the Sounders' stalwart in the defensive midfield. In fact, he was so good that he garnered consideration for MLS MVP, an award that usually goes to out-and-out attacking players.

As the Sounders got to the playoffs they were confident in their ability to win MLS Cup, partly because they thought that the middle of the field would be theirs. Alonso would continue to boss the center of the pitch, just as he did all regular season. Win the center of the pitch, let Fredy Montero do the work up front and the defense will take care of itself. Then they played the first leg of their conference semifinal tie against Real Salt Lake and were just blown off the pitch.

Salt Lake's domination was a big surprise to Seattle and the biggest surprise was Alonso's play. In short, he was dreadful. He was routinely out of position, he missed tackles and he gave the ball away with regularity. He was the complete opposite of the player that we saw in the regular season. Javier Morales had the time and space to do whatever he wanted and he pulled the string on the Salt Lake attack. Amazingly, Alonso was almost invisible for stretches, which is saying something for a midfielder who has earned the nickname "Honey Badger."

Now the Sounders return home needing to erase a three-goal deficit. It's do-able, but unlikely. If they are to pull it off, they will need an extraordinary performance from Alonso. He can't look at all like the player he was in the first leg. He'll have to be the player we saw all regular season, if not better.

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Mauro Rosales Injury Update: Sounders Don't Expect Midfielder To Play

If the Seattle Sounders are to become the first team in MLS history to come back to win a conference semifinal after losing the first leg by three goals, it looks like they'll have to do it without the services of midfielder Mauro Rosales. Sounders coach Sigi Schmid indicated that Rosales almost certainly won't be play on Wednesday and that a best-case scenario may actually be him returning to action for a possible Western Conference final on Saturday.

Sigi said that Mauro better than same point after DC injury. Still not gamesmanship he's just not ready yet. Joked about Conrad saying that
Nov 01 via Twitter for AndroidFavoriteRetweetReply

 

Rosales has been a key to the Sounders' attack most of the season. His five goals and 13 assists give him more total points than every Sounders player other than Fredy Montero, and Rosales had done all that in 1,860 minutes. 

But a pair of knee injuries have limited Rosales to just about 30 minutes since Sept. 17. That was when a Chris Woolard tackle sprained Rosales' right knee. That caused him to miss the next three matches. Rosales was able to return for the Sounders' match on Oct. 15 and played well enough to help them score a comeback victor against the San Jose Earthquakes. But just a few minutes into the Sounders' next game, Rosales was taken down by a Ben Zemanski tackle that reinjured his knee. Since then, Rosales has been severely limited in practice. 

For mor news and analysis, be sure to check out Sounders blog Sounder at Heart.

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Mauro Rosales Injury Update: Sounders Coach Sigi Schmid Doesn't Sound Optimistic

One of the faint glimmers of hope the Seattle Sounders were looking for as they try to climb out of a 3-0 deficit to Real Salt Lake on Wednesday was the health of midfielder Mauro Rosales. Unfortunately, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid did not sound particularly optimistic about Rosales playing a major role.

Schmid said Rosales is improving: "I still think it's more of an outside shot, but at least it's a shot."
Oct 31 via UberSocial for BlackBerryFavoriteRetweetReply

 

Without Rosales' ability to hold possession and send it crosses, the Sounders looked downright feckless during Saturday's destruction. The Sounders did not have a single shot on goal and really only had a couple decent scoring chances.

Lamar Neagle, who basically started in place of Rosales, looked completely in over his head during his first playoff appearance. It will be interesting to see if Schmid rolls the dice with Neagle again or if he goes with a different approach. Neagle clearly is the most offensive of Schmid's options, but he could opt for someone like Erik Friberg, who has played as a wide midfielder to differing levels of effectiveness at various times.

The more likely changes in the Sounders' lineup are elsewhere. Mike Fucito seems a likely bet to step in for Sammy Ochoa at forward and Tyson Wahl will almost certainly slot in for Leo Gonzalez at left back. Wahl's passing and Fucito's speed were sorely missed in the first leg.

For more Sounders news and analysis, be sure to check out Sounder at Heart.

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Real Salt Lake Injury Update: Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave Will Both Travel

Injured Real Salt Lake center backs Olave and Borchers could both be out for Wednesday's second leg.

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Seattle Sounders Vs. Real Salt Lake, 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs: Only Injuries Give Seattle Hope

Real Salt Lake have a huge lead in their playoff series against the Seattle Sounders heading to CenturyLink Field, but there are injury questions over their starting central defenders.

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