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November 8, 2012 at 9:25 AM

Sounders FC vs. Real Salt Lake, playoff preview and prediction (second leg)

Real Salt Lake Logo.jpgSounders FC (West No. 3) vs. Real Salt Lake (West No. 2)

Thursday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m., Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah

Local TV: KONG 6/16 (Ross Fletcher, Kasey Keller)

Regional TV/National TV: ROOT Sports, NBC Sports Network

Radio: 97.3 KIRO-FM

Referee: Chris Penso

Series: Tied 0-0 on aggregate

KEY RSL PLAYERS

GK Nick Rimando — Simply put, I thought he had the best goalkeeping performance I’ve ever seen in the first leg. The saves were spectacle, but the stage (the playoffs) and playing through a huge hit (broken nose, stitches) pushed it over the top. He’s the reason the Sounders aren’t coming into this second leg with an advantage to protect. We’ll have to see if he’s beatable tonight.

F Alvaro Saborio — With forward partner Fabian Espindola in doubt due to injury, much of the goal-scoring responsibility is going to fall on him. Big, strong, skilled, he was the last forward left off my Best XI ballot, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he made the cut with his 17 goals this season. He’s scored some very big goals against the Sounders in the past.

D Jamison Olave — The 2010 MLS Defender of the Year has been dealing with a hamstring strain but is listed as probable on the latest injury report. He came on in the first leg as a substitute and I think he might be in line to get the start tonight. Has the physical tools to match up with Seattle’s leading scorer, Eddie Johnson, who is also coming off from injury.

KEY MATCHUPS

Midfield vs. midfield — I know this section is usually reserved for individual players, but I’m curious to see how this battle plays out, especially when it comes to possession. Both teams like to keep the ball and work it around, and Seattle’s ability to do that will be more difficult if Mauro Rosales can’t go. RSL managed 50-percent possession in the first leg. Can the Sounders do the same on the road?

Goalkeeper vs. goalkeeper — These two don’t match up directly, but it will still be fun to watch. Rimando may have had the more flashy performance in the first leg — no doubt about that — but Seattle’s Michael Gspurning also had some great saves and posted an impressive shutout. Don’t forget, this one might have to be settled in a penalty-kick shootout when all is said and done.

Who the Sounders are vs. who the Sounders want to be — Brad Evans said it Wednesday: “The group has been together for four years … so if there’s any time, the time is now.” Exactly. This is the time for Seattle to step up and be the team the fans expect them to be. Sure, the playoffs are tough, RSL is tough, but it’s time for a Walter White: “I Am the Danger” moment (sorry to the non-Breaking Bad watchers).

PREDICTION

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say it’s going to be close. I actually feel RSL will boast quite a bit more of the possession as the visitors play — what’s the word? cautiously? deliberately? — and don’t stretch too far, maybe looking for chances to counter.

Action, I think, will pick up as legs get tire, and they might get extra tired tonight because I’m thinking this one has extra time written all over it. Not only that, I thinking we’ll actually need penalty kicks to decide this one, maybe bringing back painful U.S. Open Cup memories for some.

This time the coin falls in Seattle’s favor…

Sounders FC 1, Real Salt Lake 1 (Seattle advances 4-3 on penalty kicks)

SEA — Eddie Johnson (Fredy Montero) 67′

RSL — Alvaro Saborio (Ned Grabavoy) 79′

* * *

What do you think? How do you see this one playing out?

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