The Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake had a lot on the line Saturday when they took the pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium.
So when RSL picked up a couple of early goals — each fluky in its own way — it held on for dear life and preserved the 2-0 advantage all the way to the end.
“I think we lost the game in the first 20 minutes,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “(Our effort) wasn’t good enough. I think if you ask any of our guys, I think they’ll tell you the same thing. I think tonight our effort wasn’t of the standard that we want it to be.”
Seattle (11-13-2) opened the match just minutes after the San Jose Earthquakes drew even with them for sixth and seventh place in the Western Conference — a crucial distinction where the sixth-place finisher qualifies for the playoffs and the seventh-place finisher sits at home.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake (8-10-8) opened the game six points out of playoff position. And with Seattle one of its key competitors for that final spot, the game loomed as something close to a must win for the home team.
After the victory, RSL has renewed hope in the West, and the Sounders face continued work even as their roster creeps closer to full strength. The 13th loss is the most in Sounders FC history.
“Things just weren’t clicking from minute one,” Seattle captain Brad Evans said. “They won every second ball, and then obviously with the 12th-minute penalty kick: playing here and scoring early goals, this is a very difficult place to play, especially when they settle in and start changing the point of attack and crowd the midfield. Then they come back and the ball comes off the post and they score (seven) minutes later, and then the heads go down.”
Salt Lake jumped ahead in the 12th minute when a ball at the top of the Seattle penalty area bounced up and struck the arm of Sounders defender Roman Torres. RSL goals leader Javier Morales nailed the PK for his sixth goal of the season.
RSL doubled the lead when midfielder Luke Mulholland smacked a shot off the crossbar, but teammate Sebastian Jaime headed in the rebound.
“We (gave) away two sloppy goals,” Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “(On the second one) they have a wonder strike, and then we kind of have relief that it doesn’t go in, and then forget to re-mark and make sure we’re following up.”
That was enough as the Sounders put just one of their five shots on target against RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
“The guys have to realize that we’re fighting for our lives as well,” Schmid said. “That’s a realization that has to set in. A gambler told me a long time ago, never bet against a desperate team. I think maybe they were more desperate than we were today; and maybe we have to get to that point of desperation as well, and then you’ll see us stand up.”
Seattle went with a near repeat lineup of the one that had roared to a 4-0 win over Orlando City last weekend. The only change was Aaron Kovar in midfield, replacing Lamar Neagle.
However, Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez were up top, offering some offensive promise, even as Clint Dempsey, Chad Barrett, Osvaldo Alonso and Marco Pappa remained unavailable.
Asked if any of those players are expected back in the coming week, Schmid simply answered, “We’ll see.”
The Sounders will travel home Sunday before heading to Honduras for their CONCACAF Champions League match Wednesday against CD Olimpia.
Seattle’s next MLS match is Aug. 30, when the Portland Timbers will visit a fully opened CenturyLink Field. The Seattle club announced Saturday that more than 60,000 tickets already have been sold for that match.
WEDNESDAY: Seattle at CD Olimpia in Honduras, 7 p.m., 97.3-FM
NEXT MLS GAME: Aug. 30, Portland at Seattle, 7 p.m., ESPN, 97.3-FM