TUKWILA, Wash. — Just two days after closing the regular season with a 3-1 victory over Chivas USA, the Seattle Sounders underwent a training session as they turned their attention toward first-round playoff opponents Real Salt Lake.
In RSL, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid sees a cohesive group that has played together for the past three years. With Jason Kreis’ team set to welcome back captain Kyle Beckerman – who is coming off a three-match suspension for a head butt against Chicago’s Daniel Paladini – Schmid knows his team will be challenged.
“Beckerman makes a big difference to their team,” said Schmid of the veteran defensive midfielder, who has earned a recall to the US national team at the relatively late age of 29. “When he comes in there, he’s not only a good player, but he’s also, I think, their emotional leader.”
Just two years removed from an MLS Cup and six months after playing the CONCACAF Champions League final, RSL enter the playoffs during a rough patch. Despite finishing third in the Western Conference, the Claret-and-Cobalt haven’t won any of their past six MLS matches, and closed out the regular season with a 1-1 home draw to already-eliminated Portland.
One would have to go all the way back to Sept. 21 for RSL’s last win, a 3-1 triumph over a struggling New York Red Bulls side.
Nevertheless, RSL’s long, successful history together make for a tough opponent. Anchored by Nat Borchers and Jámison Olave in the back, Real Salt Lake have seen Javier Morales start the past four matches after recovering from a broken ankle. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando is another player from the playoff-tested core group that lifted the 2009 MLS Cup at Seattle’s then-Qwest Field.
“When you look at their lineup, when they put out their starting 11, that’s a group that has played together for the last three years,” Schmid added. “It’s going to be a good series.”
How good it is for Seattle may come down to how they fare in Saturday's first leg in Utah (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer, TSN2). Even with the late-season stumble, RSL’s 2011 regular-season record at Rio Tinto is a commanding 10-3-4, and earlier in the year, they set the league record for the longest home unbeaten streak.
For Schmid, hosting the second leg of the home-and-away series won’t change his team’s approach. He is, however, pleased that any overtime or penalty kicks will take place at CenturyLink Field.
“It’s nice to know you’ve got your crowd behind you,” he said.
• Midfielder Mauro Rosales was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday afternoon, according to Schmid. Against Chivas USA, the Argentine playmaker was stretchered off the field with a right knee injury — the same knee he injured September 17 against D.C. United.
• Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer said Monday that the club hasn’t made a decision about seating capacity at CenturyLink Field for the Nov. 2 return leg. It’s possible that more seats could be opened up, but until then, the team is using the regular-season capacity of just more than 36,000.
“I have very few doubts that demand will be greater than the current, planned capacity, and maybe that's an OK thing," Hanauer told reporters.
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com.