SANDY, Utah — RSL looked nothing like a team that hadn’t won in more than a month. With Will Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, and Javier Morales all back in the starting lineup, the Claret-and-Cobalt controlled the tempo from the outset en route to a dominating 3-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal matchup at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night.
Álvaro Saborío scored two goals and Ned Grabavoy added the third as RSL took a commanding lead heading into the return match on Wednesday night at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field (10 pm ET; ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com; live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Seattle will need to regroup after managing no shots on goal against a masterful Real Salt Lake defense.
Kasey Keller kept the series from getting out of hand with eight saves. Morales contributed two assists for the home side.
RSL started off strongly, with Fabián Espíndola among the standout performers in the first stanza. His strike partner Saborío just missed scoring in the eighth minute, while Keller had to dive to deny Will Johnson in the 20th. Keller once again came up big in the 24th minute, stretching to his left to deny Andy Williams when it looked like the RSL midfielder would score.
Kreis was forced to use a substitute in the 31st minute, bringing on Chris Schuler for Jámison Olave (right quad strain). The move didn’t slow RSL’s tempo, as the team finally broke through in the 41st.
Saborío provided the final touch to a lovely maneuver as Javier Morales and Chris Wingert advanced down RSL’s left side against Seattle's James Riley. The overlapping Wingert’s cross was headed for the net, but Saborío tapped it in on the goal line. After conferring with the assistant referee about a possible offside call against Saborío, match referee Mark Geiger ruled it a good goal. (See photo at right)
Seattle had great opportunity to tie it up before half, but Álvaro Fernández couldn’t direct Leo Gonzalez’s cross on frame from very close range.
RSL started the second half the same as the first — with constant pressure. The reward came earlier this time. In the 53rd minute, an RSL throw-in turned into a goal as quickly as Morales could center the ball to Saborío. The Costa Rican forward took the ball on the bounce and hooked a backheel around defender Jeff Parke and inside the far post as RSL took a commanding series lead.
In the 60th minute, Seattle’s Lamar Neagle came off for Erik Friberg, who pushed Evans out to wide midfield. Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid desperately needed some connections in midfield as Seattle was spending a great deal of energy defending.
Subsequent inclusions of Mike Fucito and Roger Levesque did little to jump-start Seattle’s offense as the visitors ended the night meekly. Fernández’ 64th minute cross off the crossbar was arguably as close as Seattle got, while Saborío missed a chance for the hat trick in the 71st minute.
Grabavoy added the shock third in the 88th minute, outhustling the Seattle defense to pound home a rebound.
It wasn’t all roses for RSL – they lost a second center back in the late going when Nat Borchers left the game with a left knee strain.
RSL -- Alvaro Saborio 1 (Chris Wingert 1, Javier Morales 1) 41
RSL -- Alvaro Saborio 2 (Javier Morales 2) 53
RSL -- Ned Grabavoy 1 (unassisted) 88
RSL -- Fabian Espindola (caution; Reckless Tackle) 30
SEA -- Osvaldo Alonso (caution; Reckless Foul) 54
SEA -- Fredy Montero (caution; Unsporting Behavior) 91+
SEA -- Erik Friberg (caution; Reckless Foul) 93+
Seattle Sounders -- Kasey Keller, James Riley, Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez, Lamar Neagle (Erik Friberg 60), Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Alvaro Fernandez (Roger Levesque 77), Sammy Ochoa (Mike Fucito 63), Fredy Montero.
Substitutes Not Used: Nate Jaqua, Zach Scott, Tyson Wahl, Bryan Meredith.
Real Salt Lake -- Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave (Chris Schuler 32), Nat Borchers (Luis Gil 84), Chris Wingert, Andy Williams, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales (Ned Grabavoy 79), Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio, Fabian Espindola.
Substitutes Not Used: Arturo Alvarez, Paulo Araujo Jr., Collen Warner, Kyle Reynish.
Referee: Mark Geiger
Referee's Assistants: -Joe Fletcher; Steven Taylor
4th Official: Silviu Petrescu
Attendance – not yet available.