Real Salt Lake survives despite poor play from midfielders
SEATTLE — When their team hosted the Seattle Sounders in the opening leg of their MLS Cup playoff series last Saturday, RSL's midfielders shimmered.
With stars Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales playing together for the first time since May 7, RSL's midfield shined and shined en route to a comprehensive 3-0 victory.
Beckerman, Morales, Andy Williams and Will Johnson brilliantly pinged the ball all over the pitch inside Rio Tinto Stadium, and Seattle didn't have an answer.
Just four days later, however, the luster was gone from RSL's guys in the middle.
Instead of dominating, RSL's midfielders got pinned back in front of their backline when they travelled to Seattle for the second leg Wednesday evening, and they had an extremely hard time putting together anything offensively.
The hunter most definitely became the hunted.
In that scenario, RSL's guys in the middle and their teammates just had to simply survive to fight another day.
In the end, RSL did just that — it lost 2-0 on the night to win the series 3-2 on aggregate at CenturyLink Field — but afterward it was clear RSL will need to possess the ball much better and keep pressure off its backline to have a chance in the next round — the Western Conference final.
"I really expected us to be better with the ball than we were tonight," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "I felt like we were really hurried. (We) got in a lot of really good spots early to win the ball and then just gave it right back. We were never able to gain any ground or get out of our half or keep things in their end for stretches.
"And it was a choppy game, which doesn't allow us to gain any kind of rhythm."
That much was evident pretty much from the word "Go" on Wednesday.
RSL was outshot 15-1 in a scoreless first half, and after Seattle scored twice within the space of five minutes in the second half, everybody in an RSL shirt knew they were in for a dog-fight.
Johnson, for his part, pointed out it was extraordinarily difficult for RSL to get going on Seattle's rain-soaked pitch.
Steady rains began to fall roughly 60 minutes before kickoff, and they continued to fall for virtually the entire night.
"It's tough," Johnson said. "This field is not good to try and play soccer on. You might as well play on an ice rink. When it's wet, it's so fast. It's almost impossible to play on, and I think that's why you see their style is long ball and just fight for the second ball.
"It doesn't make for great soccer, but it is what it is."
What it ultimately is for RSL is the opportunity to play again next week, as the club moves on to tackle its third conference final in four years.
"We accomplished what we set out to do when we came up here," said Johnson.
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