SEATTLE – Baseball playoffs are famous for pitching duels but Friday’s MLS Western Conference semi-final matchup between the Sounders and Real Salt Lake will go down as one of the best goalkeeper battles in history. RSL veteran keeper Nick Rimando once again held the Rave Green to a 0-0 draw thanks to a series of stunning saves.
Prior to match time, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid adamantly denied that this repeat fixture from the 2011 playoff series had anything to do with revenge for his team. But after the 3-1 spanking the Sounders received in the first leg last year that ultimately eliminated them from the playoffs it was hard to believe that the Sounders weren’t out for a bit of payback, especially when starting out the two game series at home.
Rimando however made sure that scenario never played out, making five saves including two heart-stoppers within thirty seconds of each other in the first half. The first on a header from Sammy Ochoa in the 33’, immediately followed by another header sent in by defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado off a corner kick – both of which Rimando gymnastically punched over the crossbar to the disbelief of the 40,000 home crowd.
Sounders’ keeper Michael Gspurning had several impressive save as well, one in the 23’ coming off his line to defend against a drive from Kwame Watson-Siriboe. Both keepers were the sole reason for the scoreless draw in a game that saw a total of twenty- two shots and eleven corners.
Ochoa had Seattle’s best chance in the 50’ from a brilliant ball from Brad Evans, sent slicing across the box, in front of an open goal but the forward drilled it high over the bar. Shortly after that midfielder Christian Tiffert took an opportunity in the 51’, heading the ball towards goal but again Rimando was right there to shut things down.
Tiffert and Rimando collided in the 67’, both going after a ball from Mauro Rosales. Rimando took an elbow to the face, causing a six minute delay in the game while he received on field treatment to bandage up a large gash above his left eye. After the match he needed stitches and resetting of a broken nose.
David Estrada was subbed for Ochoa in the 57’ and he set up Seattle’s final chance in the 85’but he didn’t manage to put enough power behind the ball and it was easily cleared in front of goal. Even with eight minutes of added time in the second half both sides were shut out, setting up a do or die situation for Thursday’s second leg meeting in Utah.
Seattle’s leading scorer, Eddie Johnson, was unable to play due to an adductor strain picked up in the MLS regular season closer against LA. Schmid admitted after the match that Johnson may have made a difference in the outcome of tonight’s match.
Salt Lake are appearing in their fifth consecutive playoff series and won the MLS cup in 2009 when it was held in Seattle. Six of tonight’s starting Sounders and eight of the RSL starters played in the semi-final matchup between the two last season. This was also the third time the Sounders defense has shut out RSL this season, which gives the team a bit of a confidence boost going into the second leg match on Thursday.