For the third time in the last four years, all under Head Coach Brian Schmetzer, the Seattle Sounders will be playing for the Western Conference Championship. Each of the last two times, in 2016 and 2017, the Rave Green captured the West title and advanced to MLS Cup. This year's story is still left to be written.
The Championship next Tuesday, airing at 7 p.m. on Sports Radio 950 KJR and ESPN on television, will either be played in Seattle against the No. 4 seed Los Angeles Galaxy or in Los Angeles against the No. 1 seed LAFC, depending on who wins the other Western Conference Semifinal match on Thursday evening. Seattle is 1-0-1 against the Galaxy and 0-1-1 against LAFC this season.
To get there, the Sounders defeated Real Salt Lake 2-0 on Wednesday evening at CenturyLink Field in a match that saw far less grey hairs created on the heads of fans than the club's previous playoff match, a 4-3 win over FC Dallas on Saturday that lasted 120 minutes.
After a scoreless first half, Schmetzer played the right cards as Seattle continued their fervent attack and eventually put in two goals, first in the 64th minute on a header by Gustav Svensson off a Nicolas Lodeiro corner-kick, and second in the 81st minute as Lodeiro took a pass on the outer left edge of the box and beat Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando, playing his final career game, to the top right corner of the net and doubling the team's lead.
"We played good in the second half," Lodeiro said. "In the beginning we had a lot of chances. In the first half we couldn’t score. The first goal was really important to open the game. After that we kept control of the tempo."
Meanwhile, the Sounders defense held firm, only seeing one shot on goal, a 10th minute attempt by Damir Kreilach, and only seven shots overall, most of which never gave Seattle keeper Stefan Frei any difficult work. Despite holding 61.3% possession of the ball, Salt Lake failed to get anything going offensively.
"We wanted to compress the middle of the field because that’s where all their movement was and let the balls go out to their outside backs, and at times we did that. But at other times the outside back would get the ball, we’d press, and then they’d just come and find a way to get it out to the other side and we were just chasing the game. So, again, we made a couple of adjustments at halftime and you know, they worked," Schmetzer said.
Centerback Roman Torres exited the match in the 49th minute due to hamstring tightness, being replaced by Xavier Arreaga, who jumped in and only continued the team's defensive domination in the second half.
Winger Jordan Morris also left the match in the 71st minute after playing more than 113 minutes in Saturday's win over Dallas. Schmetzer noted that Morris looked "gassed" after his extensive playing time for both Seattle and the United States Men's National Team in recent weeks.
"It’s been a long couple of weeks with the National Team and a tough game a couple days ago," Morris said. "But it will be good with a long week of rest so I’m looking forward to that.”
With a 20-shot-showing on Wednesday, the Sounders now look ahead to the Western Conference Championship where goals may come in high demand against the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic with the Galaxy or Carlos Vela with LAFC, both who have seen success against Seattle this season.
"I am extremely happy to go to another Western Conference Final," Schmetzer said. "I don’t care who we play. It’s a testament to those guys in there, and I know, this much I can promise, you and everyone else in this room, that that team will be ready. That team will be ready, and they will give it their all, they will fight, battle, scratch, pass, score, defend, they will do whatever it takes to win.”
Check out highlights of Wednesday's playoff victory below plus KJR's Postgame Show featuring Schmetzer's press conference as well as interviews with Svensson, Lodeiro and Morris.