Salt Lake went in to Saturday’s away match against the Seattle Sounders holding the Western Conference lead and the best record in Major League Soccer. With Sounders’ starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning out injured, Bryan Meredith was inserted into the first team.
This always looked to be a tight affair given that the match arguably featured MLS’ best two central defense teams: RSL’s Borchers & Olave, along with Kyle Beckerman playing ahead of them, vs Hurtado, Parke & Osvaldo Alonso (likely the league’s best defensive midfielder) for Seattle.
The match was played with an aggressive tone from the off and referee Mark Geiger had his hands full virtually from the opening whistle. Seattle burst out of the gate quickly with Eddie Johnson & Mauro Rosales creating space and chances down the right side. Only poor final touch and passing stopped them taking the lead in the first 15 minutes. RSL’s game plan appeared to be to use their size and strength to take Montero out of Seattle’s attack. Firm but (mostly) fair was the order of the day.
The match settled into rhythm just after the 15 minute mark. Seattle controlled possession for the most part and often took the ball deep into Salt Lake’s half. Time and again, though, Borchers and Olave were there to cut off any cross or diagonal run from the home side. Despite a major advantage on the ball, the Sounders ended the first half without a shot on goal.
Just after the break RSL’s Will Johnson came close with a shot high and wide left. In the 51st minute Luis Gil placed a high arcing pass perfectly between the Seattle defenders, Espindola nudged it behind his man and then left footed it out of mid air into the far right corner behind the helpless Meredith. While the goal came seemingly out of nothing, it was a fine strike.
After a fairly lively first half, Eddie Johnson seemed virtually to disappear in the second. In the 58th minute Alvaro Hernandez came on for Estrada, Sounders Manager Schmidt no doubt hoping for an offensive spark. The move did little to improve his club’s fortunes in this match.
Montero headed a cross just wide right (replays showed it may have deflected off Borchers) in the 71st minute, but apart from that Seattle created little in the way of genuine scoring opportunities. They were still holding possession advantage and often doing so deep in the Salt Lake half, but they could not unlock them. A tight game, but perhaps one of the easier clean sheets of Nick Rimando’s career. Salt Lake is now 4 points clear in the west, though most of the chasing pack have played at least two fewer games thus far.
Elsewhere, Montreal drew Los Angeles 1-1 in front of more than 60,000 spectators at Olympic Stadium. A huge LAG defensive lapse allowed Davy Arnaud through alone in the 8th minute. He did not disappoint the assembled throng, chipping it easily past Brian Perk .
After the break LA pressed harder, often dominating play. In the 62nd minute Montreal gave up a free kick just off the edge of the area. This is Beckham territory and he didn’t disappoint, leveling the game with a fine FK into the top right corner of the net. A man of the match performance from Montreal GK Donovan Ricketts was the highlight in this one. Despite their significant defensive woes, LA could and should have won this match easily.
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