Many non-soccer fans can't understand why some matches end in a tie, or the aggregate formula to determine a series winner. Here's the simple scenario for the Seattle Sounders FC tonight: beat Real Salt Lake or the season is over.
After a scoreless tie in Seattle, the first-round MLS playoff series is now one game for all the marbles at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. If the match is tied at the end of 90 minutes, they play 30 more. If it's still deadlocked, time for penalty kicks.
The Sounders have never advanced to the second round but appear as ready as ever to handle this pressure-packed situation.
"The pressure is the opportunity," Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid told me in our Coach's Corner show. "You can't look at pressure as something that will be detrimental. It just means you have something great to accomplish tonight."
Both goalkeepers were sensational in the first match. RSL's Nick Rimando snuffed several great Seattle scoring chances. Sounders keeper Michael Gspurning also came up big, knowing one goal might decide an entire season.
"Games of this importance make you a little sharper," said the Austrian native. "It's a small edge not to be over-excited about the game because then all that happens are mistakes."
In his first season with Seattle, Gspurning has filled in beautifully for retired goalkeeper legend Kasey Keller. If he had not been missed 13 games with a hip injury, no question Gspurning would be MLS keeper of the year.
His light-hearted mood in practice turns to all-business when it's game time, especially important playoff matches like this one.
"Actually, I don't like it before the game if someone tells me, 'let's have fun,'" he said. "It's not fun for me at all. The game is something serious. It's enjoyable after the game if you had a good game. During the game, fun is not the right word for me."
While Seattle has not scored against Salt Lake in four meetings this season, their attack is bolstered with the return of Eddie Johnson. He sat out the first playoff game while resting a hamstring injury. Johnson's quickness and leaping ability should free up teammate Fredy Montero.
The Sounders' captain, Mauro Rosales, made the trip to Utah but has been also dealing with a hamstring problem. We won't know until close to game time whether he can answer the bell in Seattle's most important opportunity of 2012.
Ross Fletcher and Kasey Keller call the action starting at 7 p.m. on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM.
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