Some things are tough to change, and for the Sounders FC it’s winning at Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium.
The Rave Green made another trip to the windy setting with what’s described as a hard, bumpy field Saturday. The conditions and RSL proved too difficult for the Sounders to break down with the home side winning 1-0.
After the result, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer found forward Fredy Montero to console an agony the pair know best. Seattle hasn’t won at the stadium since 2011 — Montero’s third season with the Sounders with Schmetzer then an assistant coach.
“We haven’t had a lot of success here and that reflection is probably just as important as the reflection on this particular game,” said Schmetzer, whose club is 1-10-3 at the stadium. “There was a point in time that the L.A. Galaxy had our number. They were always the one that we couldn’t get past in 2014. We couldn’t push past them in the playoffs. They were kind of our team that we just couldn’t get by and then suddenly we had a couple of good results against them and then it’s not the case.
“With this team (RSL), with this building, with this field, I don’t know.”
Adding disappointment to the defeat Saturday was it being the return of Sounders assistant coach Freddy Juarez. He left the head position at RSL in August to join Schmetzer’s staff.
“We’re disappointed we couldn’t get a result for Freddy,” said Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe, who had a brief stint with Juarez at RSL in 2019. “He’s fit the (Sounders) group very well. Not only the coaching staff, but the players as well.”
Real Salt Lake midfielder Aaron Herrera got Sounders wingback Brad Smith off balance to send a textbook cross to forward Damir Kreilach for the only score of the match in the 48th minute.
Kreilach bounced a header past Sounders defender AB Cissoko and keeper Stefan Frei.
The goal amped up the crowd of 19,850 and RSL’s intensity. RSL created another scoring opportunity in the 57th minute but Frei stretched his left leg out to kick the ball off frame.
Schmetzer made five second-half substitutions to generate some offensive flow. But even playing with three forwards in Raul Ruidiaz, Montero and Will Bruin in the closing 10 minutes, Seattle couldn’t find an equalizer.
“This game in particular, I don’t believe that we started off well in the second half,” Schmetzer said. “The team coming out at halftime not being sharp, that falls on me. That’s my responsibility to make sure we’re clear with instructions, with the subs that we made because they (RSL) made a play in the second half and then they defended, and they made it count.”
RSL gave Frei his most action in the penalty box since the keeper returned last week from a knee injury suffered in May. RSL outshot Seattle 16-9 in the match with Frei swatting away at least three crosses and the cross bar deflecting two attempts.
Frei finished with four saves.
The Sounders had one shot on target in the opening half. Midfielder Nico Benezet fed Ruidiaz on the left side of the box in the 27th minute. RSL keeper David Ochoa had the save in the upper corner.
“The thing is, everybody wants to win against us,” Benezet said. “So, it’s pretty hard to be able to win every game. (Saturday), the most difficult thing was the pressure. There was a lot of pressure on us.”
Schmetzer again tested his team’s depth and versatility with his starting rotation. Nouhou returned from an adductor injury and was slotted on the back line with mainstay Xavier Arreaga and reserve Cissoko, who last started for the first team in a victory against Dallas on Aug. 18.
Schmetzer kept midfielders Cristian Roldan and Alex Roldan, and Ruidiaz in the lineup despite two playing full time and Alex subbing out in the 89th minute of the Leagues Cup victory against Santos Laguna on Tuesday.
Alex was subbed off at halftime for Rowe while Cristian was swapped for Montero in the 64th minute Saturday. Ruidiaz again played 90 minutes.
The Sounders play the title match of the Leagues Cup on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Whether the first-choice trio can handle the condensed schedule of high-stakes games is questionable.
Seattle (13-5-6) remains second in MLS Western Conference despite the setback Saturday. RSL, which was in playoff contention when Juarez left, moved up to fifth in the West at 10-9-6.
“Focus wasn’t any kind of an issue, for us,” Rowe said. “This was a big game for us going into the league. We need to make sure we’re still top of the West going into the playoffs and make sure we get as many home games as possible. We didn’t have any lack of focus. It was just a lack of play.”
NOTE: Schmetzer clarified that Sounders midfielder Nico Lodeiro didn’t make the trip because he reinjured the knee he had surgically repaired in May. The incident happened at training and he’s being evaluated. Lodeiro has made eight appearance across all competitions this season and recorded one goal and one assist.