For a 4th time this year RSL will take on the Seattle Sounders on Friday night in the 1st half of their Western Conference Semi-final series. This will mark the 3rd trip for RSL to Seattle this year, they are 1-0-1 in the two matches played at CenturyLink this year, a 1-0 win and then most recently a 0-0 draw. These teams have become very familiar with each other over the last couple of years, and faced each other in the Semi-finals last year as well. That series featured a 3-0 RSL win at Rio Tinto Stadium in the 1st leg and a Sounders 2-0 win in the 2nd leg, which allowed RSL to advance to the Western Conference final last year.
The teams ended the season just a single point apart in the standings, RSL had 57 points to the 56 of the Sounders, RSL had 17 wins and the Sounders had 15, the Sounders pulled off 11 draws, while RSL settled for just 6 draws this year. Both sides were 11-4-2 at home this season, while RSL had the better road record at 6-7-4, while the Sounders were 4-4-9 away from home. So while the Sounders choose to focus on their local “Cascadia Cup” opponents as their top rivals, I tend to believe based on the action on the pitch that along with LA that the Sounds have become one of the better rivals of RSL. As RSL pointed out in their recently released infographic these teams have been over the past seasons two of the more evenly matches sides in MLS.
So what can you look forward to on Friday night?
Key Match Up:
Nat Borchers & Jamison Olave vs. Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson – This match up is even more interesting as Jamison Olave will be returning from injury and Eddie Johnson will be playing with an injury he picked up last weekend when Seattle took on the LA Galaxy. Johnson and Olave both are guys with amazing speed and fearless on and off the ball, while Montero and Borchers are both crafty players who use skill and a bit of guile to master their positions.
Both Johnson and Montero have found success against RSL in the past, Eddie has 3 goals in 456 minutes against RSL and Fredy has 2 goals and 2 assists in 692 minutes of action against RSL. RSL has put up 14 clean sheets this season (just over 40% of their matches) and a large part of that has been the work of Nat and Jamison one of the most dominant duos of centerbacks in MLS. Watching these four players do battle is going to be enjoyable no matter who you might be cheering for.
Andy Rose – In a case of what might have been, RSL drafted Andy Rose in the supplemental rounds of the 2012 draft for the specific purpose of trading him to the Seattle Sounders for the rights to Leone Cruz. Rose went on to feature in 23 of the Sounders matches this year, including 11 starts, while Cruz was released by RSL mid season. One has to believe it could be very ironic if Mr. Rose were to get some quality minutes in this series, and I have to believe that he may just do that as he is a midfielder who isn’t afraid of doing work on the defensive side of the ball.
Paulo Jr. – It has been an interesting season for Paulo Jr. he started out the season playing a major role for RSL as some others were regaining their fitness, then he struggled in the middle of the season (a time which include a short loan to a USL side) and then worked his way back into the mix at the end of the season. While he hasn’t shown all of the speed that he had before a series of injuries last year, he has shown a real willingness to do the hard work needed to help his team. The wet and wild turf at CenturyLink might just be something that could play to his advantage.
Hilario Gradeda – All season long MLS officials have often found themselves the center of questionable calls and controversy, to expect that to end when the stakes are raised in the playoffs would be silly. All that players, coaches and fans can hope for is a level of consistency and fairness from the officials who can so easily change the course of a match.
It seems as if I should be quick to pick a 0-0 draw, the result these two teams ended up with twice in regular season action, but I can’t. Too much is at stake for each of these organizations, the Sounders are hungry to prove that they can get beyond the first round of the playoffs, while for RSL this could be the last chance for the core unit to claim some silverware. RSL could see their “top” lineup in action for just the 3rd time this season, that lineup includes 10 guys who were with the team in 2009 when they lifted the MLS Cup in Seattle. For the Sounders only a handful of their players were even in MLS when that happened, so the experience factor has to go to RSL.
RSL have been to the top of the mountain and many of the veteran players know this could be their best shot at getting there again, the Sounders this is year four of their existence and they have had great success on and off the pitch, but they know that in MLS the standard is winning in the playoffs, so the pressure is on. With the knowledge that they have made it to conference finals in 3 of the last 4 seasons, RSL know exactly what they need to do in order to make that 4 out of 5. The Sounders on the other hand picked up their first playoff win last year 2-0 in the 2nd leg against RSL, but it wasn’t enough for them to get their first series win in the playoffs.
National TV, a big time crowd, weather, it won’t matter what is thrown at these two sides on Friday night, they will both show up and both will be ready. I just think that RSL have the level of confidence and experience that will allow them to do something they already have done this year, pick up a win at CenturyLink, I believe this is going to be a 2-1 RSL win with the team scoring early in the match, the Sounders drawing even in the 2nd half and RSL breaking some hearts with a late game winning goal. Getting the first goal will be critical, as RSL is 14-1-0 when scoring first, the Sounders are even more impressive with a 14-0-3 record, but when giving up the first goal the Sounders are just 1-8-4, while RSL is 3-10-1 if they allow their opponent to score first. Remember that RSL hasn’t given up a goal in the first 15 minutes of a match all season, and hold a 10 goals scored to 5 allowed in the first 30 minutes of matches. RSL also has found the back of the net 13 times this year after the clock has hit 75 minutes.
I look forward to being able to catch this match live in Seattle, so if you are there as well look for me and say hi, if not make sure you are watching on NBC Sports to cheer on RSL.
That’s How I See It