SEATTLE – In the wake of Real Salt Lake’s 3-0 thumping of the Seattle Sounders this past Saturday, head coach Jason Kreis talked about how the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium helped lift his side, acting as a de facto 12th man that could provide energy when the team hit an in-game loll.
In the second leg at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday (10 pm ET; ESPN2/ESPN Deportes, TSN2; live chat on MLSsoccer.com), Kreis’ men will be running into a crowd with a decidedly different objective: Make it hard as hell for RSL to play soccer.
“I think there’s no doubt that we’re seeing now, or at least getting to a point where -- crowds matter,” Kreis explained upon arriving in Seattle on Monday evening. “They can be real determining factors for home teams. I think Seattle, a lot of the success they’ve had at home has to be credited to what an amazing fanbase they’ve built here.”
Over the course of their three seasons in the league, the Sounders have set the single-season record for attendance three times, and in 2011 averaged about 37,000 per game.
There’s no word yet on the expected turnout for Wednesday, but the home fans may not have a lot to cheer about since the Sounders are the first team ever to enter the second leg of a MLS home-and-home series down by three or more goals. Compounding that problem is the fact that Seattle have scored just once in five playoff games since they entered the league back in 2009.
Nonetheless, Kreis and his players are keenly aware of the need to keep the crowd out of it.
“Last time we came here, we won 2-1 here, and we have to come in with that same mindset coming into this game,” said midfielder Andy Williams, a veteran of the 2009 RSL side that beat the LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup in Seattle. “The first thing we need to do is hopefully not let them score early, ‘cause if they do they’ll have the fans going crazy. And it’s not going to be easy – I don’t know how to stress it any more than that.”
While it won’t be easy, it won’t be unusual circumstances for a blooded RSL side. As Williams said, they beat the Sounders in the summer, and they still have fond memories of the 2009 final. They can also draw strength from this spring’s CONCACAF Champions League run, which saw them play in some of the region’s toughest venues.
“We know what it’s like," Kreis said. "We’ve been here many times before, and we’ve also faced very similar – if not more difficult – places to play in, i.e., Saprissa six or seven months ago. So I feel like our guys are ready for it. But, you never know.”
What Kreis does know is that his team will be facing the kind of atmosphere that he rarely – if ever – experienced during his heyday as a player. And he thinks it’s something that should benefit his side, helping to “get the blood going."
“It’s amazing, the experiences these guys get to have, the stadiums they get to play in, the crowds they get to play in front of,” Kreis explained. “How much more relevant it all seems to be. It makes me jealous, no doubt about it.”
Beltran on the mend
While central defenders Jámison Olave and Nat Borchers will be questionable right up until game time, fullback Tony Beltran is expected to be sufficiently recovered from his adductor strain to be available.
“The doctor said six weeks is what I was supposed to be out, and I’m right at six weeks today, actually, so I’m feeling pretty good,” Beltran said on Monday afternoon. “At this point, though, even if I wasn’t feeling great, I’d still want to go. It’s just that time of year.”