SALT LAKE CITY – Real Salt Lake have the Seattle Sounders right where they want them.
With a 3-0 advantage heading into the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday (10 pm ET, ESPN2/TSN 2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), RSL would need to lose by three goals to even be pushed to overtime. And what are the odds that that will happen?
Turns out they’re pretty good if you’re the Sounders.
Seattle have scored three or more goals eight times in their 34 games this season – that’s nearly one-fourth of the games they’ve played, nearly double the league average. And in the last eight games of the season, they managed to accomplish the feat four times.
“I firmly believe that we’re playing the most dangerous team in the league,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis insisted on Monday as the squad prepared to depart for the Emerald City. “They’ve scored the most goals this season. If any team could come back from this, it would be Seattle, so we’ve got to be prepared.”
That respect for their opponent may be the key to RSL having a winning mindset coming into the second leg. The team can ill afford to assume that merely showing up on Wednesday will be enough to carry them through to the Conference Championship.
So for Kreis, the trick is to pretend that the three-goal lead simply doesn’t exist.
“For me, we’ve got to approach this as if we’re 0-0 or maybe 1-0,” said Kreis. “I think we can play this as if we’ve got a one goal advantage, and we’ve been in that situation a lot of times before. I think our players know what’s expected of them tactically when we have a lead.”
RSL are well aware that the setting and environment at CenturyLink Field will be vastly different – in front of a huge opposing crowd and playing on turf – than was the case on Saturday in the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium, playing with altitude to their benefit.
“I would expect the crowd to be very into it in Seattle,” Kreis said. “I would expect for them to come out with an incredibly high amount of energy.”
Add that to the fact that the Claret-and-Cobalt may be without central defenders Nat Borchers and Jámison Olave – both hobbled with quadriceps strains – and it could be a wild ride for the team as they try to hold onto what at first glance appears to be a substantial lead
“I think it would be a huge disaster if we approached it as if we had a huge cushion,” Kreis said. “We need to be aggressive in our mindset still.”