TUKWILA — Gustav Svensson walked off the Sounders practice field Tuesday talking about sunny skies and rejuvenated legs.
In reality, it was cloudy, and the 30-year-old defensive midfielder was three days removed from logging 120-plus minutes to help Seattle get an opening-round MLS playoff win. In a quick turnaround, the No. 2 seed Sounders host No. 3 seed Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday at CenturyLink Field.
“Mentality is important for these kind of games,” Svensson said of the postseason.
The league’s switch to a single-elimination playoff format this year creates a steamroll of games for the winner. And the Sounders’ approach is like an extended team-bonding exercise.
Players and coaches attended the Seahawks’ home game Sunday together as quarterback Russell Wilson’s guest — Wilson also owns a portion of the soccer franchise.
“They actually love the quick turnaround,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of his team. “They want these games to come, they don’t want another week in between. They’re happy, they’re ready to go.”
Seattle is brimming with confidence after its 4-3 win Saturday against FC Dallas in extra time. The Sounders showed they’re capable of scoring at will, forward Jordan Morris pushing through exhaustion to get into position for what proved to be the winning goal — a header that bounced into the net in the 113th minute.
Dallas, the youngest team in the league, pressured Seattle until the final whistle, creating a feeling Seattle hadn’t experienced since its postseason play-in match in 2016 against Sporting Kansas City, which it won, 1-0.
Salt Lake has historically been a difficult opponent for Seattle. The Sounders defeated Salt Lake, 1-0, at home in April but were thumped 3-0 on the road. Seattle also didn’t use its typical first-choice players for the midweek game.
“They cheat a lot with their attacking players,” said Svensson of Salt Lake forward Damir Kreilach and midfielders Albert Rusnak and Jefferson Savarino. Rusnak leads Real Salt Lake with 10 goals, but it was scores from Kreilach and Savarino that propelled Salt Lake into the semifinals with a 2-1 win against Portland last week.
“We’ve got to make sure that we have that under control when we have the ball and not go forward with all of our guys,” Svensson continued. “We’ve got to play the way we did the first 35 minutes of the Dallas game. But, it doesn’t matter who we play, we’re good enough to beat any team. It’s more up to us to make sure that we do.”
The Sounders worked on defending set pieces in preparation for Salt Lake. Two of the goals conceded against Dallas were created by corner kicks. Some Sounders also ended Tuesday’s session with penalty kicks. Had Morris, who Tuesday was named MLS Comeback Player of the Year, not completed his hat trick – a MLS playoff first for him and the Sounders — Saturday’s match would have been decided on penalty kicks.
“We switched a couple of things on our set-piece defending, making sure the guys know their assignments a little bit better,” Schmetzer said. “We’ll see if those work and if we need to adjust during the course of the game, we will.”
Salt Lake and Seattle haven’t played each other in the postseason since 2012, the Sounders winning the semifinal series. Seattle is 10-3-3 all-time against Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink.
“It’s about matching that intensity first and foremost,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “And taking care of our opportunities at hand. But they have quality players and they make life difficult for all the teams around the league. Quietly, too. They do it very quietly.”