Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders, 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs Second Leg: Facing Absurdly Long Odds, Sounders Must Execute

The Sounders have dug themselves a pretty deep hole, on that there is universal agreement. If the expression is "they've made their bed and now they'll have to lie in it" then instead of linens Seattle decided to use sandpaper. To advance, Seattle has to score three goals in 90 minutes; to give themselves a better chance than the flip of a coin, they'll have to add another in extra time. And they'll have to accomplish all of this while keeping a clean sheet against Real Salt Lake. Either task is difficult enough on its own; combined things look even more dire.

But you knew that. (If you didn't, sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Probably should have watched that other game though.) In a season largely defined by triumph over massive obstacles, this game will perhaps be the most difficult test. And unfortunately, there's no magic bullet; Seattle won't be switching to a three-at-the-back formation (at least not until it gets late) and they're not going to play with all of their available strikers at one time. If the Sounders are going to pull off one of the more impressive comebacks in MLS history, they're going to have to do it by playing the same way they've been playing all season at the highest level they are capable. The Sounders are the highest scoring team in MLS after all. The issue in the first leg was not tactical, it was entirely a result of a terrible performance. A Sounders team clicking on all levels is more than capable of scoring three or more goals in a single game. It's happened four times this season (three times in MLS, once in the CONCACAF Champions League) and though Real Salt Lake are of a higher quality than Toronto FC, Comunicaciones, Columbus and DC United RSL has lost by three goals twice this season and neither time to a team as good as the Sounders. There were extenuating circumstances in both games, but when you're looking for reasons to cling to slim hopes proof of concept is good enough.

The reality of the situation is that a flawless performance from Seattle will not be enough. They'll need outside help, whether it come in the form of sheer dumb luck, of RSL having a game equally as bad as the one Seattle played on Saturday or (more realistically) a combination of the two. The Sounders are nowhere near as bad a team as they appeared to be on Saturday, but a lot of the credit has to go to RSL for playing well enough to highlight how poor of a performance it was. To have a realistic chance of advancing, the Sounders will have to turn the tables and make RSL look just as poor.

And just to compound the difficulties, no matter what the scoreboard at CenturyLink says this game is not starting 0-0. It's unlikely that a Jason Kreis coached team is ever going to play a style that could be described as negative, but they've got a sizable lead and their primary aim will be to protect it. We've seen the Sounders break down comically bunkered defenses before, but few of them have the quality in defense of Real Salt Lake. In that sense, the status of the visitors' center backs is going to be massive; if both starters are close to full health, scoring more than once or twice is going to be insanely difficult. If one or both is healthy enough to play but at a reduced level of effectiveness things will be slightly easier, and if one or both is forced to sit this one out it will be a huge break for Seattle. No one hopes for injuries, but attrition is a huge part of the game whether it's fair or not. If Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers are injured, that benefits the Sounders and could have a massive impact on how this one plays out.

Ultimately, the reality is this; the odds against Seattle staging a comeback and advancing are ludicrously high. But given what we know about the Sounders, there's reason for hope. And even if the Sounders can't recover, there's still the opportunity to save some face. This is probably the last Sounders game until CONCACAF Champions League play picks up again in early March. As frustrating an end to the season as this would be, it's still not anywhere near as bad as four months without the Sounders. And if you choose to skip it, there's always the chance you'll miss out on something pretty special.

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