It's win or go home for Real Salt Lake, Seattle
Sandy • In the final moments of training on a summer-like Wednesday afternoon, Real Salt Lake players gathered around the goal at the north end of Rio Tinto Stadium and practiced penalty kicks.
RSL plays Seattle FC on Thursday night in Game 2 of their Major League Soccer playoff series. The winner advances to the Western Conference finals, since the teams fought to a scoreless draw in the opener of the two-game aggregate series last week at CenturyLink Field.
Going back to the regular season, Real Salt Lake and the Sounders have played three consecutive 0-0 draws, which is why RSL's work on penalty kicks in training was so noticeable.
If Real Salt Lake and Seattle fail to score in regulation during Game 2, it goes into 30 minutes of overtime. If the game isn't decided in overtime, the outcome will be determined by penalty kicks.
According to coach Jason Kreis, RSL always spends time practicing penalty kicks, especially this time of year.
The idea, he explained, is "to get the guys some reps just so they can see what it looks like and feels like to be 12 yards from the goal with a free shot."
Seattle had more open looks at the goal in Game 1, forcing keeper Nick Rimando to make five saves, including four that left the Sounders shaking their heads.
"We happened to run into a hot goalkeeper and we didn't convert," said coach Sigi Schmid. "We just need to change it around for the next game."
Rimando suffered a broken nose and three-stitch gash near his eye after a collision with Seattle's Christian Tiffert in the 67th minute. But he finished the game and will be 100 percent in the rematch.
"I'm feeling good," Rimando. "Every week, when it comes down to the end of the season, is the same. You try to stay focused, keep your body right and do what you need to do to get ready for the game."
Like his teammates, Rimando expects a fierce effort from the Sounders. The atmosphere at Rio Tinto should be electric.
"There are no other legs [to play] and they probably feel like they were robbed in the last game," Rimando said. "So we expect them to come after us. But we're going to do the same. It's our home. Winner goes on."
RSL's chance to advance will improve, of course, if its attack can break through against Seattle keeper Michael Gspurning. Kreis sounded confident RSL can score, especially away from the slick artificial surface in Seattle.
"We just have to be a little bit better in the final third," Kreis said. "I thought we created a number of chances [in Game 1]. We were in and around their box enough. Perhaps on a different field or with a little better roll we'll get that goal we so desperately need right now."
Injuries could be a factor in Game 2.
For RSL, forward Fabian Espindola and defender Jamison Olave will be "game-time decisions" because of hamstring issues, Kreis said.
For Seattle, leading scorer Eddie Johnson will play after missing Game 1 because of a hamstring injury. But midfielder Mauro Rosales, who strained a hamstring in the final minutes of the opener, is questionable.
Seattle at Real Salt Lake
P At Rio Tinto Stadium
Kickoff • Thursday, 8 p.m. TV • NBCSN
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 102.3 FM
Season records • RSL 17-11-6, Seattle 15-8-11
Last meeting • RSL 0, Seattle 0 (Nov. 2)
About RSL • Its record when scoring the first goal in games this season is 14-1-0. ... RSL is 60-12-19 at home since coach Jason Kreis' first full season in 2008. ... F Alvaro Saborio (17) and F Javier Morales (9) have accounted for 26 of their 46 goals. ... All-time, they are 30-5-5 when Saborio scores.
About the Sounders • All-time, they are 1-2-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium. ... Going back to the 2011 playoffs, they have not scored in 389 minutes against RSL.