Questions hover as SFC head to Rio Tinto
Friday night’s match was a nail biter. Seattle was dominant, but couldn’t overcome the brilliant goalkeeping of Nick Rimando.
Kickoff: 7PM PST (Game 1 Result o-0)
Sounders fans, take heart that your team performed better than in last year’s playoff opener. But they now face the daunting task of winning at Rio Tinto on Thursday night.
When I walked into CenturyLink on Friday night, I told my seat mates that the Sounders needed to win by 2 for me to be comfortable in the away leg.
They didn’t, so I’m obviously nervous.
Walking out of the stadium on Friday, I felt an overwhelming sense of doom. The Sounders had put together one of their most complete performances of the year and they weren’t able to break through. The 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake in last year’s Conference Semi-finals stuck in my mind.
How could the rave green win at Rio Tinto?
After 5 days, my emotions are more measured. There are definite positives to be taken from the match last week. In addition the Sounders have played RSL close all year long, so I think we can expect another quality match. Nevertheless, there are a few nagging questions in mind.
The answers to these questions will go a long way towards determining whether Seattle can advance in a playoff series for the first time in their short MLS history.
3 nagging questions heading into Leg 2
How fit is Eddie Johnson?
Leg 1 of the series showed how much Seattle misses Eddie’s unique speed and poise in front of goal. Sammy Ochoa had a very strong match but wasn’t able to get behind the RSL defense because he lacks pace. He also missed a wide open shot early in the second half that Johnson would have finished 9 out of 10 times. Clearly, it’s important that Seattle’s leading scorer play tomorrow.
Eddie Johnson has been pretty bullish this week about playing. He’s been practicing and we expect him to be on the field Thursday. His level of fitness will be important though. The first question that has to be answered is whether he will be able to play the full 90.
The second is, how fast will he be?
Hamstring injuries are difficult to recover from quickly. Eddie uses his knowledge and pace to slide behind defenses. The extent to which his injury has healed will determine his effectiveness.
Can the team win without Mauro?
Once again, the Sounders face the possibility of playing an important match without the help of their key playmaker, Captain Mauro Rosales. It’s fair to say that even if he does play, it won’t be for the full 90.
So how will they cope without him?
Seattle is more equipped than ever to win without the Argentine. The arrival of Christian Tiffert at midseason has shored up the midfield more than ever before. Steve Zakuani and Mario Martinezare both strong options for Seattle in his absence.
Make no mistake, winning is still possible without Mauro, but the possibilities of going to overtime and a shootout increase remarkably.
Will there be any goals?
Seattle has been a prolific offensive club over the last few years. They have weapons all over the field. But, for some reason RSL has their number. Seattle hasn’t scored in more than 389 minutes against the Claret and Cobalt (that’s more than 4 whole matches!).
To make matters worse, neither of their top goalscorers have good playoff records. Montero has never scored in the postseason.
This has to change.
The Sounders stand on the precipice of greatness. If they can start scoring, I think they’ll win the MLS Cup. But the goals must start flowing…and Nick Rimando will have sto stop playing out of his mind.
The bottom line
Seattle’s first half performance in this playoff series wasn’t the best that it could have been, but they rave green are in a decent position heading into Thursday.
If the Sounders can answer my three nagging questions, I think they will come home from Rio Tinto with a win.
Call me crazy, but if they can make it through this round, I would choose the Sounders over anyone else in the playoff field to lift the MLS Cup.
Come on Seattle. Fight and win.