Seattle needs a four-goal win in Wednesday's home game to win the aggregate-goal series.

SANDY, Utah — One dreadful performance has pushed a stellar 2011 season to the brink.

Sounders FC’s pursuit of an MLS Cup started with a nightmarish 3-0 road loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals.

The two-game, aggregate-goals series will be settled at 7 p.m. Wednesday at CenturyLink Field. Seattle needs an almost-impossible four-goal win to advance to the conference finals. A three-goal win after 90 minutes would send the game to extra time and then, if needed, a penalty-kick shootout.

Saturday’s result, and the subsequent task at hand, left the Sounders stunned.

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“It’s simple. We got dominated,” said defender James Riley.

RSL forward Alvaro Saborio led the rout with two goals, one in each half, and midfielder Ned Grabavoy added one late as the 2009 MLS Cup champions outclassed the visitors, ending a six-game winless streak in the process.

Saborio opened the scoring with a tap-in goal in the 41st minute and added a brilliant back-heel in the 53rd minute. The Costa Rican nearly capped a hat trick in the 71st minute, but whistled a shot just high. Grabavoy finished the job in the 88th minute in front of 17,067 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“It was like everything that could go wrong, did go wrong tonight,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid.

Seattle scrambled for a late consolation goal, but a lackluster showing from the league’s best offense ended quietly. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando didn’t have to make a single save.

The Sounders fell to a woeful 0-4-1 in playoff games over three seasons, with only one goal scored in 480 minutes. They’ve been outscored 7-1 overall in the postseason.

“Everything from top to bottom can be better,” said forward Mike Fucito.

Saborio’s first goal was the result of midfielder Javier Morales’ setting up a precise cross from defender Chris Wingert. The Sounders argued Saborio was offside on the goal, but referee Mark Geiger confirmed the score after deliberating with his assistant referee.

Real Salt Lake would’ve been up by more than one at halftime if not for a stellar performance from Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller. The team captain, who will retire after this season, made four first-half saves, including big stops on Will Johnson (20th minute), Andy Williams (24th) and Fabian Espindola (40th).

Keller, who declined to comment after the game, finished with nine saves. Schmid said his goalkeeper was “the one guy who stood up and performed.”

And for the Sounders, the letdown means there could be just one more chance to perform this season.

“Three-zero is definitely a hole we didn’t want to be in, but that’s the reality of it,” said Riley. “It’s all on the line on Wednesday. … Definitely, it’s a trying moment for the group. We’ll see what type of character shows up.”


• Saturday’s defeat marked the third time in franchise history Sounders FC has lost by three or more goals.

• Sounders FC was without Mauro Rosales due to a sprained right knee. The star midfielder stayed in Seattle to work with trainers in hopes of being ready Wednesday. Lamar Neagle started in his place Saturday.

• Forward Sammy Ochoa made his first MLS start for the Sounders.

• RSL captain Kyle Beckerman returned to the lineup after being suspended for the last two games of the regular season. The midfielder was punished for head-butting Chicago’s Daniel Paladini on Sept. 28.

• Seattle was the best road team in MLS this season at 9-3-5 and entered Saturday having won five of its last six games.

• RSL defender Jamison Olave was forced to leave the game in the first half with a right quadriceps strain. RSL’s Nat Borchers suffered a left knee strain late in the game.

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Seattle 0 0 — 0
Real Salt Lake 1 2 — 3

First half — 1, Real Salt Lake, Saborio 12 (Wingert), 41st minute. Second half — 2, Real Salt Lake, Saborio 13 (Morales), 53rd. 3, Real Salt Lake, Grabavoy 1, 89th. Goalies — Seattle, Kasey Keller; Real Salt Lake, Nick Rimando. Shots — Seattle 10, Real Salt Lake 19. Shots on goal — Seattle 0, Real Salt Lake 12. Saves — Seattle 9, Real Salt Lake 0. Fouls — Seattle 10, Real Salt Lake 10. Corner kicks — Seattle 7, Real Salt Lake 5. Offsides — Seattle 0, Real Salt Lake 4. Yellow cards — Espindola, Real Salt Lake, 30th; Alonso, Seattle, 54th; Montero, Seattle, 90th+; Friberg, Seattle, 90th+. Referee — Mark Geiger. Assistant referees — Joe Fletcher. Steve Taylor. 4th official — Silvio Petrescu. A — 17,067.


Seattle — Kasey Keller, James Riley, Jeff Parke, Leo Gonzalez, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Lamar Neagle (Erik Friberg, 60th), Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, Alvaro Fernandez (Roger Levesque, 76th), Fredy Montero, Sammy Ochoa (Michael Fucito, 63rd).

Real Salt Lake — Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Jamison Olave (Chris Schuler, 32nd), Nat Borchers (Luis Gil, 84th), Robbie Russell, Will Johnson, Javier Morales (Ned Grabavoy, 79th), Kyle Beckerman, Andy Williams, Alvaro Saborio, Fabian Espindola.