You don’t often see fans marching from a stadium, proudly waving a pair of fingers in the air.
They don’t make many movies about a team’s stretch run toward being runner-up.
However, second place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference is at stake tonight when Real Salt Lake visits Seattle. And coach Sigi Schmid seems to have convinced his Sounders that it is a prize worth winning.
“Certainly, if you can grab first, you try and grab first; but that opportunity slipped away,” Schmid said Tuesday. “So what’s important now is to get us in the best playoff position we can.”
That is second place because San Jose already has clinched the top spot in the West. Second is currently held by Salt Lake, but a win by the Sounders tonight would move them even with RSL in the points race, with one game in hand. A loss would put Seattle six points behind with only six more points available as their regular season concludes with a home match Sunday against FC Dallas and a road date Oct. 28 at Los Angeles.
The eventual second-place finisher will be rewarded with home-field advantage in the deciding match of the opening two-game, aggregate-score playoff series against the No. 3 finisher. Second place also increases the chance of hosting rights for the MLS Cup, which this season will be played on the home pitch of the higher-seeded finalist.
Despite the stakes, Seattle and Salt Lake go into this match with key players out or questionable because of playing with their national teams. Among them is each club’s leading scorer: Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio (17 goals) and Seattle’s Eddie Johnson (14).
Perhaps equally problematic for Seattle is the absence of defender Adam Johansson (Sweden), which further weakens a back line ravaged by injuries to Leo Gonzalez (hamstring), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (facial fracture) and perhaps Patrick Ianni, who left Tuesday training early to be checked for an undetermined health issue.
Behind the Sounders’ reworked back line will be goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who leads MLS with a 0.74 goals-against average.
Any goal should be precious, as Seattle has been shut out twice and RSL has scored only once in the two previous meetings between them.
REAL SALT LAKE (17-11-4; 55 POINTS) AT SOUNDERS FC (14-7-10; 52)
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Ch. 6/16. RADIO: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
CLUB LEADERS: For RSL – G 17 Alvaro Saborio; A 9, Javier Morales; S 80, Saborio; SOG 39, Saborio; GAA 1.10 Nick Rimando. For Seattle – G 14, Eddie Johnson; A 13, Mauro Rosales; S 113, Fredy Montero; SOG 42, Montero; GAA 0.74, Michael Gspurning.
HEAD TO HEAD: RSL leads 3-2-3 overall and 2-1-1 in Seattle. Salt Lake also eliminated the Sounders from the playoffs last season in an aggregate-score series. This season, RSL won, 1-0, on May 12 in Seattle, and the clubs played to a 0-0 draw July 4 in Utah.
NOTES: This match pairs the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the Western Conference. A Sounders win would pull them even with a game in hand. … Salt Lake is 4-1 over its last five games, while Seattle is 2-1-2. … When scoring first, Seattle is 13-0-3, while RSL is 14-1. … Seattle is second and RSL third in goals-allowed per game. The Sounders have gone 240 minutes without being scored upon. … Gspurning leads MLS in goals-against average. Rimando is third in wins (16) and shutouts (11). … Seven players are out or questionable due to duty with their national teams: Johnson, Mario Martinez and Adam Johansson for Seattle; and Saborio, Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson for RSL. … Saborio is second in the league in goals scored. RSL is 1-2 without him this season. … RSL has an all-time record of 5-14-8 on artificial turf, but is 2-1 this season. … Ten RSL players have been with the club five seasons or longer. … Montero and Osvaldo Alonso are one caution away from yellow-card suspension. … The referee is Ricardo Salazar.
NEXT: Sunday at 6 p.m., FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field.firstname.lastname@example.org Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 @donruiztnt