SEATTLE (ABC 4 Sports) - Real Salt Lake earned a hard fought 0-0 draw at Seattle Sounders FC in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinal series on Friday night at CenturyLink Field, setting the Claret-and-Cobalt up nicely ahead of the return leg at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday, November 8th.
RSL was led on Friday night by GK Nick Rimando, who made no less than four fantastic saves to keep the clean-sheet – RSL’s fourth in a row and ninth in its last 12 games across all competitions.
The first half was played at a breakneck pace, with both sides getting up-and-down the field quickly and registering numerous chances. Seattle had the first real look of the match in the ninth minute. MF Mauro Rosales had the chance, getting on the end of FW Sammy Ochoa’s cross at the top of the six only for RSL DF Kwame Watson-Siriboe – making his playoff debut for injured DF Jamison Olave – to thwart the effort with a solid sliding block.
RSL had its first solid opportunity in the 23rd minute. Combination play in the middle of the field allowed MF Javier Morales to slip MF Ned Grabavoy behind the defense, but Sounders FC GK Michael Gspurning was quick off his line, beating Grabavoy to the ball at the top of the box and clearing it out of danger.
Rimando outdid Gspurning with a huge save in the 25th minute. Sounders FC DF Marc Burch played a long diagonal ball to MF Brad Evans in the right side of the box, but Rimando aggressively came off his line to block Evans’ eight yard effort.
The Claret-and-Cobalt had another chance in the 31st minute. Morales started the play, crossing from the right wing to FW Alvaro Saborio at the near post. The Costa Rican international masterfully flicked his header to an open Grabavoy at the back post, but Grabavoy – perhaps not realizing how much time he had – could only muster a seven yard header that Gspurning comfortably saved.
Rimando came up with two world class saves in the 33rd minute, both off of Rosales corner kicks. Ochoa had the first chance, heading a corner kick that looked ticketed for the back of the net only for Rimando to make an incredible acrobatic stop. Rimando was at it again seconds later, contorting his body to keep out Seattle DF Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s powerful header.
The ‘keeper clinic continued in the 38th minute, when Gspurning made a good stop on RSL MF Will Johnson. The Canadian international collected a blocked shot in the right side of the box, ripping a 10-yard effort toward the near post that Gspurning parried away for a corner.
That chance took the sides into halftime. RSL made one substitution at the break, bringing off FW Fabian Espindola – who injured his left hamstring in the first half – and inserting FW Paulo Jr.
The second half was played at the same breakneck pace as the first. RSL had the first chance of the frame in the 47th minute. Saborio had the opportunity, getting on the end of DF Tony Beltran’s cross at the spot and heading a shot on goal that Gspurning held.
Sounders FC should have gone ahead in the 49th minute through Ochoa. Evans set up the golden chance, dribbling down the left side to the end line and squaring a ball to an unmarked Ochoa eight yards out. He couldn’t take advantage of the great opportunity, though, hoofing his shot well over the crossbar.
Seattle had another opportunity in the 51st minute, but Rimando snuffed it out with yet another huge save. MF Christian Tiffert had the look, powerfully snapping DF Adam Johansson’s cross to the bottom-right-corner from the spot only for Rimando to somehow get down and block it.
RSL and Rimando endured a scary moment in the 66th minute. Tiffert collided with Rimando while both players were attempting to get to a Rosales cross, with Rimando taking an elbow to the right temple. RSL’s medical staff attended to the bleeding Rimando for several minutes, and the veteran GK – who suffered a broken nose and had to have his right eye stitched up post game – was able to stay on the pitch.
Seattle kept the pressure on after Rimando’s injury, but it wasn’t really able to generate another opportunity until the 81st. Substitute FW David Estrada beat RSL sub DF Jamison Olave on the left wing, hitting a cross off of Beckerman that nearly deflected into the net.
RSL broke pressure in the 85th minute, when it nearly grabbed the lead through Saborio. The Costa Rican striker got on the end of a Morales cross at the left post, heading down to the near post to force Gspurning into another quality stop.
Seattle had another golden chance in the 85th minute. Substitute MF Mario Martinez whipped a ball in from the left wing to FW Fredy Montero at the near post, with the Colombian striker flicking the ball to the far bar. Estrada ran onto the flick, only needing to tap the ball into an open net to give Seattle the lead. He somehow couldn’t manage that, though, whiffing his shot and letting the ball roll out of bounds.
Sounders FC kept the pressure on after Estrada’s missed opportunity, but couldn’t create a chance before referee Hilario Grajeda blew the final whistle after eight minutes of stoppage time.
Friday’s result leaves RSL in great shape heading into the series’ second leg, which will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 8.