Real Salt Lake's goalkeeper had several acrobatic saves to help his team escape the first leg of the Western Conference semifinal with a 0-0 tie.
Heroes are born in the playoffs. At least that’s how Sounders FC goalkeeper Michael Gspurning put it before Friday’s opener in the Western Conference semifinals against Real Salt Lake.
However, it was Gspurning’s counterpart, RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who approached hero-like status as he made five saves — including a pair of jaw-dropping stops in the first half — and played through a crushing collision to allow the visitors to sneak out of CenturyLink Field with a 0-0 tie.
A winner in the two-game, aggregate-goals series will be determined in the second leg at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
“We don’t have any other option: It’s win or win,” midfielder Osvaldo Alonso said through a translator.
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The Sounders are going to need a hero of their own to produce what would likely be the biggest win in franchise history.
The challenge will be a steep one.
Seattle has never led in a playoff series — a total of 660 minutes over four years — and has a 389-minute scoreless streak against RSL that includes four shutouts and dates to the 2011 playoffs.
“We can sit here and we can lament about it and we can cry about it … but at the end of the day, we’ve got to get ready for a game on Thursday,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We have to build on what was good … and if we play the same way in Salt Lake, I think we come away with the result.”
What was good, Schmid said, started with a number of scoring chances: 11 shots, eight corner kicks and 30 crosses from open play.
The bad? Finishing.
The Sounders had — and blew — the game’s best opportunity in the 50th minute on a play that started on the left side with a great run by Brad Evans. His cross came to forward Sammy Ochoa in front of an open goal, but Ochoa slammed it well over the cross bar. A franchise-low playoff crowd of 34,941 groaned loudly in disappointment.
“I tried to put it in, but I hit it too hard and it went over,” said Ochoa, who started for an injured Eddie Johnson. “We’ve just got to hope we put our chances away when we go down there.”
Seattle had another chance in the 51st minute, but a header by midfielder Christian Tiffert was smothered by Rimando.
Those two players met again in the 67th minute, but in a more physical nature, as they collided going after a Mauro Rosales cross. Rimando suffered the worst of it and the game was delayed for about five minutes as he received medical attention for an apparent blow to the face.
After the game, Rimando needed stitches and had a broken nose reset.
Seattle’s last quality chance came in the 85th minute, but forward David Estrada whiffed on an attempt in front of an open goal.
“The goals are going to come if we keep the same mentality, the same character we showed today,” Rosales said.
Rimando matched that mentality with physicality, and the RSL goalkeeper was at his best in the 35th minute.
It started with a Seattle corner kick from Rosales to Ochoa, who slammed a header toward goal. The forward was about ready to turn up the field in celebration, but Rimando stuck his left glove out for an amazing stop that deflected the ball over the cross bar.
“As soon as it went off my head, for sure I thought it was going in,” Ochoa said.
On the ensuing corner kick, defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado connected with a header that was stopped again by Rimando — this time in amazing acrobatic fashion.
“He had a great game, awesome saves,” Gspurning said of Rimando. “He was one reason we didn’t score today.”
The Sounders defense, for its part, has shut out RSL three times in a row, which also provides some confidence heading into Thursday’s second leg.
“Don’t write us off,” Gspurning said. “We’re a good away team, too. It will be a fun game next week.”
• Johnson, the team’s leading scorer, was unavailable due to an adductor strain suffered in Sunday’s regular-season finale. “Could Eddie Johnson have made a difference? Possibly,” Schmid said.
• Alonso is the only Sounder who has played all 660 playoff minutes.
• Friday marked Sounders FC’s 31st different starting lineup in 35 MLS games this season (regular season and playoffs).
• Seattle and RSL are two of three MLS teams that have made the playoffs each of the past four years. The Los Angeles Galaxy is the other.
• RSL forward Fabian Espindola left the game at halftime with a hamstring injury, and defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe left the in the second half with an apparent ankle injury.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or email@example.com
|Real Salt Lake||0 0 — 0|
|Seattle||0 0 — 0|
First half — None. Second half — None. Goalies — Real Salt Lake, Nick Rimando; Seattle, Michael Gspurning. Shots — Real Salt Lake 11, Seattle 11. Shots on goal — Real Salt Lake 4, Seattle 5. Saves — Real Salt Lake 5, Seattle 4. Fouls — Real Salt Lake 13, Seattle 13. Corner kicks — Real Salt Lake 3, Seattle 8. Offsides — Real Salt Lake 1, Seattle 2. Yellow cards — Parke, Seattle, 45th+; Beckerman, Real Salt Lake, 53rd; Evans, Seattle, 54th; Morales, Real Salt Lake, 56th. Referee — Hilario Grajeda. Assistant referees — Paul Scott. Jeff Hosking. 4th official — Allen Chapman. A — 34,941 (32,400).
Real Salt Lake — Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Kwame Watson-Siriboe (Jamison Olave, 76th), Chris Wingert, Javier Morales (Yordany Alvarez, 87th), Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio, Fabian Espindola (Paulo Junior, 46th).
Seattle — Michael Gspurning, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Marc Burch, Adam Johansson, Jeff Parke, Mauro Rosales (Steve Zakuani, 90th+), Osvaldo Alonso, Christian Tiffert (Mario Martinez, 82nd), Brad Evans, Sammy Ochoa (David Estrada, 57th), Fredy Montero.