Sounders-Real Salt Lake Preview
Thanks in part to Nick Rimando, only one goal has been scored in four meetings between Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders this year.
It may only take one more to determine which team reaches the Western Conference finals.
Rimando tries for another dazzling performance in net as RSL attempts to end a four-game goal drought Thursday night, when the club hosts Seattle in the second leg of this playoff series.
Rimando has shut out the Sounders in all four meetings this season, but Salt Lake has mustered just one goal to go 1-0-3.
The goalkeeper came up big Friday, as four of his five saves came in acrobatic fashion to preserve a scoreless tie at Seattle in the opener of this West semifinal.
"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," coach Jason Kreis said.
Rimando has eight shutouts in his last 11 games in all competitions, allowing three goals in that stretch. He's blanked Seattle in the last two meetings at Rio Tinto Stadium, and didn't even need to make a save in a 3-0 win there in last year's playoff series at this stage.
RSL went on to win that set 3-2, but both clubs are struggling to find the net of late.
Salt Lake has played four consecutive scoreless ties in all competitions after scoring nine goals during a four-game winning streak. The club came up empty on 11 shots - four on goal - in the opening game of this series.
"We didn't score, but we have a lot of confidence in ourselves, and we think that we can score goals," forward Alvaro Saborio said. "We have to be more patient in front of the goal."
Saborio's 17 goals during the regular season ranked third in the league, and he scored twice in the playoffs against Seattle last year.
The Sounders have been blanked in four of their last six MLS games, including each of the past two. They're looking to advance past the conference semifinals for the first time in four tries since joining the league in 2009.
"I think we're ready," coach Sigi Schmid told the team's official website. "I think our team is anxious. I think our team is looking forward to the opportunity."
Having Eddie Johnson back may help. The forward, who has revived his flagging career with 14 goals following four inauspicious years in Europe, sat out the first leg with a left adductor strain but is expected to return.
Mauro Rosales' availability isn't as certain due to a hamstring injury.
"We'll see how he feels," Schmid said. "He said it's progressed much better than he expected to progress. It's pretty localized, so we're able to treat it pretty well.
"I'd like to say (he'll at least be available off the bench) at this stage, but you never know with an injury like this. You could have a setback, it could progress really well, you just have to wait and see."
Rosales had 13 assists during the regular season, tying for third in MLS, but he has none in his last seven matches. The playmaking midfielder missed both playoff meetings with Salt Lake last year, and has one assist in five career matchups.
The winner of this game will face reigning MLS Cup champion Los Angeles, which rallied to eliminate Supporters' Shield winner San Jose late Wednesday.