Scoreless for a fourth game in a row against Real Salt Lake, the Sounders draw Friday means they have to win Thursday in Utah to advance in the playoffs for the first time in club history.
The Sounders and Real Salt Lake are so evenly matched that a marble could be dropped on this seasonal series, and it would sit motionless.
And indeed, the Sounders sit motionless. As in: Dazed.
RSL, thanks to goalkeeping by Nick Rimando that was made of Kevlar, had the playoff series tipped in its favor after yet another 0-0 draw against Seattle, meaning the series decider is on its home turf Thursday with no need to play from behind.
“If we play the same way in Salt Lake, we’ll come away with a result,” said coach Sigi Schmid, bravely attempting to stanch the emotional bleeding from a disappointing home draw that seemed ready to be won a half-dozen times, except for the valiant Rimando. But Schmid’s subsequent ramble betrayed the wound.
“We can sit here and lament about it, cry about it,” he said. “We can say, ‘Jeez,that was terrible . . . oh, wow, what are we going to do? . . . Woe is me; the sky is falling . . . Are we going to cross the road and get hit by a car?
“You can talk about all these things, but at the end of the day, we got to to get ready for a game on Thursday and build on what was good.”
The match was so taut and futile that Schmid’s anxiety over the blown chance was palpable. The otherwise hugely successful franchise is haunted by a failure to deliver in the postseason, having been tossed from the first round in each of its first three years. Now a fourth consecutive ouster looms against the team that sent them home a year ago.
It’s not as bad this time, but that would have been hard to do — the Sounders played their worst game of 2011 when they lost at home to RSL 3-0 in the first leg of the aggregate-goal series. They won the second match 2-0 in Utah, but in Major League Soccer, that doesn’t add up to moving on.
So, nil-nil was an improvement, but there was little feeling of success among the 34,191 on hand on a weird night that repeated the scoreless outcomes of the previous two regular-season games with RSL. The Sounders are 1-5-1 in the MLS playoffs, and 0-1-3 against RSL this season, having yet to score against the Utahns in 360 minutes. Even in soccer, that is a goose egg that nearly qualifies as a planet.
The weirdness start with that attendance number, some 4,000 short of the sellout that has come to be the standard of expectation. Then there was the absence of the most important offensive player, striker Eddie Johnson, who watched in a suit from the pressbox after a hip-muscle injury in the middle of the regular-season finale Sunday in Los Angeles.
Then there was the field, bearing the painted markings of the NFL Seahawks, who play at the Clink Sunday and didn’t think the logo and sideline paint would dry by kickoff because of a rainy forecast for Saturday. Among soccer purists, who already find the fake pitch contemptible, the field appearance was an offense. A franchise commitment was made when the Sounders began to always present the field in its soccer configuration. Promise broken.
The indignity probably would have mattered not a bit if any of the 11 Sounders’ attempts on goal had struck home. But the foul field just adds kindling to the smoldering frustration of fans torqued over the Sounders’ failure to finish.
The evening’s oddness developed another turn in the second half when Seattle’s Christian Tiffert collided in front of the goal with Rimando, sending the keeper to the ground in pain, where he remained for most of five minutes. Tiffert’s elbow caught Rimando’s right temple and opened a gash near his eye that took a butterfly bandage from RSL’s cut man to close.
Rimando finally came to his feet and continued. He was credited with five saves, but it seemed as if he flicked away a dozen shots.
“We thought he was going to have to come out,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis. “We thought it was going to be a laceration that they couldn’t get the blood stopped, and if that’s the case, then he has to come out. They did a good job getting the blood stopped and Nick continued on with a real brave effort.”
Afterward, Rimando tweeted out photos of his wound and bloodied gloves. He also had a message for Sounders fans:
#SEA fans: I’m not going home in a body bag but we r going home with a shutout. Respect 2 the #sea fans that reach out 2 me.
Schmid gave Rimando props after the game, although the crowd did not distinguish itself by mildly booing Rimando for the length of his stay on the ground. Even Schmid could not resist a dig, hinting that the length of the delay may have been deliberate, and helped break Seattle’s momentum.
It wasn’t a wise thing to say, because the Sounders goalie, Michael Gspurning, nailed the truth:
“We didn’t score before he was hurt,” he said, “and we didn’t score after.”
The Sounders haven’t scored all season against RSL, so it’s a little hard to go along with Schmid’s faith for Thursday, at least beyond the law of averages.
Maybe they can convince the MLS to score the game on style points, degree of difficulty or the swimsuit portion of the competition. At this point, paper/scissors/rock seems attractive.