RSL hopes a win in Seattle can signal beginning of bright future for the franchise

The kick by Real Salt Lake's Albert Ruznak is left and misses its mark against the Seattle Sounders during the first half of an MLS soccer match Saturday, April 6, 2019, in Seattle. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times via AP)

Back in 2009, Real Salt Lake had to win a playoff game in Seattle in order to win the MLS Cup. Captain Kyle Beckerman remembers it well.

But Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando are the only players left from that team that beat the L.A. Galaxy and hoisted the franchise’s first and only championship trophy. And although Wednesday’s Western Conference semifinal game against the Seattle Sounders doesn’t have the same stakes attached to it, Beckerman thinks a win there would mean a lot for the club.

“We’re looking to make a new memory,” Beckerman said Monday. “I think this would be a huge moment for this club to get a win on Wednesday. Especially moving forward with this club with a lot of the young guys, to get a big, big playoff win in Seattle would be something that [the club] really can build off of.”

RSL will have to do it against a Sounders team that advanced to the conference semis behind a 4-3 win over Dallas in which forward Jordan Morris, who was named Major League Soccer’s Comeback Player of the Year on Tuesday, scored a hat trick. And it’ll have to do it in front of another large CenturyLink Field crowd. The Sounders averaged 40,247 fans per game this season, per the website Soccer Stadium Digest.

But Salt Lake has matched up well against Seattle in recent years, winning four of the previous five matchups. The team did drop its only road game against the Sounders this season, but it was back in April when Mike Petke was still coaching the team and midfielder Damir Kreilach didn’t play due to a red card suspension.

Beckerman said RSL can’t draw any lessons from its regular season games against Seattle. But there might be a more recent game the team can use for inspiration: FC Dallas’ first-round loss to the Sounders.

Defender Nedum Onuoha said Tuesday that the mentality Dallas showed against Seattle, particularly when it was trailing on the road, was something RSL can potentially harness and take into Wednesday’s game.

“I think it’s just about being fearless really,” Onuoha said. “I think if it was in the regular season, a team away from home, they might set up to be quite defensive and so on. But the game turned into a bit of a shootout, and I think that was credit to Dallas being able to keep their heads up when the team’s down and just keep plugging away and keep plugging away.”

Seattle’s two most dangerous players offensively are forwards Raúl Ruidíaz and Morris, who combined for 21 goals in the regular season. Midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro, however, might be the most important player for the Sounders because of his 12 assists along with his seven goals.

And even though Morris had the performance of his career in the previous round, midfielder Albert Rusnák said RSL isn’t expecting to put any extra defensive attention on him. But that doesn’t mean the team isn’t aware of the danger he brings.

“He’s an extremely talented player, hard-working, honest and [has] a nose for goal as well,” Beckerman said, adding that defending Morris requires a collective effort. “So we’re going to have our hands full with him.”

Interim coach Freddy Juarez said Tuesday that Real will need to make sure the Sounders aren’t able to freely pass where they want and effort to force the ball into areas they want it to go. He also said the team needs to do “whatever it takes” to get a goal, and if they get a lead, “defend it with our lives.”

Along the same lines, Onuoha thinks Salt Lake will need to dominate offensively if it has any hope of advancing to play either LAFC or the Galaxy in the conference finals.

“I don’t want to die on this hill,” Onuoha said. “But for me, even as a defender, if we win every game 10-9 for the rest of the season and was MLS Cup champions, I’d be comfortable with that. It’s just about putting the ball in their goal.”


At CenturyLink Field, Seattle

Kickoff » Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV » FS1

Radio » 700 AM

Last meeting » RSL 3, Seattle 0 (Aug. 14)

Records » RSL 16-13-5 (3rd in West), Portland 16-10-8 (2nd in West)

About Seattle » Raul Ruidiaz leads team with 11 goals, while Jordan Morris has 10. … Morris scored a hat trick in the 4-3 extra time win over FC Dallas that advanced the Sounders to the conference semifinals. … Including the playoffs, the Sounders have 219 corner kicks.

About RSL » Won four of the previous five games against the Sounders. … Damir Kreilach has scored four goals in four MLS playoff games. … First playoff game against Seattle since 2012. … Finished just three points behind the Sounders in the regular season. … Has conceded 10 less goals than Seattle, including the playoffs.