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RSL Playoff History Evokes Seattle Memories

On Tuesday, RSL and Seattle square off in Major League Soccer’s postseason for the fourth time since the Sounders’ 2009 entry to MLS. In the Clubs’ inaugural Playoff meeting, RSL won 3-2 on aggregate in 2011, with Seattle returning the 1-goal favor over two legs in 2012. Last time the teams squared off, the Sounders won the knockout quarterfinal match in 2019 by a 2-0 scoreline before 37,722 at what is now Lumen Field, site of this year’s tilt.

Across all competitions, RSL arrives in Seattle with an active three-game losing streak, last winning on Sounders turf on May 26, 2018 – a 1-0 victory courtesy of a Bofo Saucedo goal and a Nick Rimando clean sheet. Overall, RSL’s record is only 3-14-3 in MLS regular season, MLS Cup Playoff and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup competition at Seattle, outscored 33-12. 

In postseason competition, RSL has both lost and been shut out in four consecutive MLS Cup Playoff games at Seattle, with an active scoreless streak of 362 minutes entering Tuesday’s match. Meanwhile, Seattle is unbeaten in its last 16 home #MLSCupPlayoffs matches dating back to 2014, one shy of matching the LA Galaxy mark set from 1999-2010. 

However, everything past is just prologue. To paraphrase RSL Captain Albert Rusnák’s comments prior to the 2021 regular-season finale at Kansas City: nothing prior matters, the game starts 0-0, we play 90 minutes (maybe 120?), and it’s all there for the taking. 

Despite the recent drought there against the Sounders, Seattle is home to RSL’s greatest accomplishment during the Club’s 17-year history, as then-Qwest Field was the host of MLS Cup 2009. That 2009 date was November 22, twelve years + one day ago from this year’s Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoff Appearance at Lumen Field. 

That iconic day saw RSL claw back from an 0-1 deficit to the “MLS Galacticos” from Los Angeles, including David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Co., emerging via a heroic shootout on the backs of Nick Rimando and Robbie Russell, among several others, to be crowned the State of Utah’s first major-league professional sports champion in nearly 40 years (1972 Utah Starzz of the ABA) … 

During the 2021 MLS regular season, RSL and Seattle split the two-game series, each winning at home by a goal … Back on June 23, Seattle rode an 88’ game-winner from Raul Ruidiaz for a 2-1 win, the match decider coming just 9 minutes after an Albert Rusnák equalizer canceled Cristian Roldan’s 58th-minute opener. 

On Sept. 18 in Utah, RSL combined a Damir Kreilach header in the 48th minute with a clean sheet by David Ochoa and the Claret-and-Cobalt defense, the 1-0 victory providing the 2nd of back-to-back wins for the only occasion in the 14-game Pablo Mastroeni era. 

With all that as the backdrop entering Tuesday, here are RSL’s Top Four postseason moments against Seattle: 

  1. Tony Beltran Headed Clearance – Nov. 2, 2011 – Western Conference Semifinals, Leg Two

As third-seeded RSL arrived for the second leg of the 180-minute series at West No. 2 seed Seattle, the Claret-and-Cobalt had built a 3-0 aggregate lead on the strength of a phenomenal home performance just three days prior. Late in the first half, with RSL under siege by the home side, clinging to a 0-0 scoreline, Tony Beltran's headed clearance preserved the RSL cushion.


With stellar RSL GK Nick Rimando briefly out of position after punching a Seattle ball to the edge of the box, Beltran instinctively provided cover and stepped between the pipes to head clear a Jeff Parke volley and avert danger. Beltran’s play was considered the key both internally and externally to RSL ultimately moving forward 3-2 on aggregate.

  1. Nick Rimando heroics – Nov. 2, 2012 – Western Conference Semifinals, Leg One 

One year later to the day from Beltran’s superb performance, GK Nick Rimando provided a series of stupendous saves to shut out a dangerous Seattle attack – for the fifth time that particular season – and vault RSL back home to Rio Tinto Stadium – where the Club boasted an excellent 11-4-2 (W-L-D) mark – even on aggregate, 0-0. 

To the mounting frustration of the hometown Seattle crowd of nearly 35,000, Rimando stood on his head (figuratively), even after suffering a broken nose and needing three stitches in-game to stem the bleeding, following a collision with Christian Tiffert. Said then-RSL boss Jason Kreis: "I think it will have to go down as one of the single best individual performances by any player that's ever worn an RSL jersey.”

  1. Alvaro Saborio brace – Oct. 30, 2011 – Western Conference Semifinals, Leg One

RSL’s all-time leading scorer and Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio already had one goal to his name in the first half, but that was a relatively easy tap-in of a Chris Wingert shot that probably could have gone in on its own. However, Sabo’s degree of difficulty rose exponentially off the charts to complete the brace.

Want to know what's hard to do? Back heel a soccer ball. It's even harder when it's a hard, low cross and a defender is on your back. If you think pressure is a factor too, doing it in a huge playoff game just adds some pressure and makes that finish even harder. It wasn't a problem for Saborio though, who pulled off this beauty.

  1. Ned Grabavoy series winner – Oct. 30, 2011 – Western Conference Semifinals, Leg One

The brace from Saborio was spectacular, but it was a late third by versatile MF Ned Grabavoy that provided what would become the eventual series-winner, one that saw Salt Lake take the initiative in their home leg against Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium with the 3-0 victory.

The central midfield partnership of Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales dominated the affair, as Morales setup both Saborio goals, while Beckerman was instrumental in keeping the ball moving and stifling the Sounders attack. The Salt Lake attack was as devastating as it had ever been and spectators witnessed a performance not seen from the so-called best team in the league since their disappointing loss in the CONCACAF Champions’ League Final, six-and-a-half months prior. 

All of RSL nation anxiously awaits a spectacular moment or two to be added to the list Tuesday evening. WATCH live on FS1 or FOX Deportes (8:30p MT), or join RSL Watch Parties in downtown SLC (Beer Bar, 21+) or at Rio Tinto Stadium’s Interform Club (Sandy). Click HERE for more info on the watch parties.