Whenever Real Salt Lake talks about the playoffs at Lumen Field, the club mentions their biggest win in the stadium in hopes it’ll conjure good luck. This time, it might be worth noting RSL won their 2009 MLS Cup in Seattle, the anniversary being Monday (Nov. 22).
But the real postseason magic at Lumen Field remains with the Sounders. The club is riding a 16-game unbeaten streak in playoffs at home. The mark dates back to 2014 and is one win shy of tying the Los Angeles Galaxy’s record run from 1999-2010.
Tucked into Seattle’s streak is defeating RSL four times in postseason matches at the stadium, including an active scoreless streak of 362 minutes.
Tuesday should have a special feel as the Sounders welcome back fans for the postseason.
The Rave Green began the season with restricted seating due to the pandemic. Once COVID-19 vaccinations were available, the Sounders opened up full seating and is expecting a solid crowd. Last year was played without fans.
Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said getting the crowd involved early will be important in making the environment intimidating for Real Salt Lake. That will take pressing, crisp passing and impressive tackles. Scoring also works.
The Sounders were 15-0-5 during regular season play when they scored first.
Focus, Focus, Focus
Seattle doesn’t need to look to RSL midfielder Damir Kreilach’s second-half stoppage time goal Nov. 7 for a reminder on the importance of staying alert defensively for an entire match. The Sounders have two examples from their six-game winless streak to close the season.
The Rave Green conceded a goal to Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell in the 79th minute that resulted in a 2-1 loss. And the Sounders lost Chicharito in the box for an easy score in what ultimately was a 1-1 draw against the Galaxy.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer had his team work on defending set pieces during the two-week prep for the postseason. But some errors on the field were basic mental lapses individual players must fix themselves.
Seattle was still one of the better defensive teams this season, conceding a league-low 33 goals. RSL has one of the more porous defenses in conceding 54.
Yet, the Sounders struggled to get results to end the season. Penalty kicks are a normal part of training, but three draws in their final six games made it more significant.
Ruidiaz v. Kreilach
Stabilize Kreilach and get a score from Ruidiaz is practically a sure bet for a Seattle win. The Sounders were 10-0-3 this season when Ruidiaz scored.
The Peruvian thrives in the postseason. Ruidiaz has bagged nine goals and six assists in 10 postseason matches since being signed in 2018. This MLS campaign has been his best with 17 goals.
Few can match Ruidiaz’s panache, but Kreilach is in the midst of a career-best MLS season, too. The Croatian has career highs in scoring (16) and assists (nine). The Sounders will have to cut off passes and look out for the rebound strike to keep Kreilach from creating chances for RSL.
RSL could try to neutralize Ruidiaz. But the Sounders are expected to also have Jordan Morris. The winger’s fitness is questionable since returning from a torn ACL, but he knows how to finish in front of goal.