Be prepared for the Sounders and Real Salt Lake to make their series deadlock so unbreakable that the coaches will have to settle it in the Thunderdome.
What if the Sounders and Real Salt Lake can’t untangle from each other Thursday night? What if they stay tied 0-0 through regulation, overtime, penalty kicks, coin flips, a poetry slam, a tax audit and bar-closing time?
Personally, I prefer the solution provided by the Mel Gibson epic, “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”: Two Men Enter! One Man Leave!
Dressed in animal-skin loincloths, with Tina Turner presiding: Sigi Schmid vs. Jason Kreis.
I’m taking Mad Schmid.
Otherwise, the sports world will have to deploy for the first time a final score using the symbol for infinity:
No one wants to see that. Then again, since no one has seen a goal in three games between the teams since May, the emergency preparedness kit needs to be at hand.
Schmid wasn’t quite willing to believe that this playoff series, which renews at 7 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium, in Sandy, UT., would be as irresolvable as the Middle East, but he did consider the question of another scoreless tie in the aggregate goal format drifting to the outer limits of Major League Soccer tiebreakers.
“Well, you have to think about (a 120-minute game),” he said this week. “You have to make sure your starting people have the capability of going 90-plus minutes. You don’t want to start too many players that you feel can’t get 90 minutes.
“Because if that’s the case, then you’re locked into some subs and if something unbeknownst happens — somebody gets injured, something you don’t expect — then you’re in trouble. So that’s going to affect our lineup at the end of the day.”
If the Sounders burn through their three subs too early, the series and season could end on some dorky mismatch between a kid backup and one of RSL’s grizzled vets like stud Alvaro Saborio, who scored twice a year ago in Seattle. That would be a lame conclusion to a series and a season that would be marked down as a large disappointment.
After first-round exits in their first three seasons, the Sounders took a personnel risk for 2012 in trading two quality young players for Eddie Johnson, a flashy international-class striker with some checkered history. Johnson responded with a team-high 14 goals, but overall the Sounders fell back a little, finishing with 56 points, seven less than a year ago, and absent any of the secondary trophies available during the season like the U.S. Open Cup, CONCACAF and Cascadia Cup, into which the Sounders put much (too much?) effort.
And the season followed the raw wound of losing 3-0 at home in the playoffs to this same RSL outfit, which played defensively enough in the second match to lose just 0-2 and advance. That flop had some echo Friday, when the Sounders played to a scoreless draw in a CenturyLink game that had multiple good scoring chances.
Schmid wasn’t willing to concede that last week was the same as last year.
“I think we came out and just didn’t play well,” he said of the 2011 playoff opener. “We didn’t play well and they punished us early and got on top. We could never grab the game back. We were a little bit naïve in how we tried to grab the game back. But I think we learned from there.
“We’re a better team than we were last year when we played them in the playoffs.”
What makes that statement a little credible is the likely return of Johnson, who sat out the first game with a mildly strained hip muscle. He’s expected to start Thursday, although he may be one of those who can’t go 90 minutes.
Another potential sub-90 entry is Mauro Rosales, the assist leader who has a sore hamstring. He practiced this week, but his game-time status is uncertain.
Any limitation on either player will cut into Seattle’s chances for this series’ unicorn — a goal. Schmid said all the brave words.
“We believe in our quality,” he said. “We know they’re a very good team as well. But we know we’ve been able to go there in the past and play good games and get good results and that’s our expectations.
“We have high expectations of ourselves. we know it’s going to be a close game. It’s going to be a battle.”
That we know. Know too, that infinity can be a concept or a car, but not a good sports outcome.