The Sounders need more than just stars to align to advance to the next round of playoffs tomorrow night at the XBox Pitch. They need breaks, plural.
Still, it can be done. Stranger things have happened. You can be doubtful all you want. I'm doubtful. We'll probably lose. But if you happened to watch either last January's Seahawks-Saints playoff game, the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the NBA Finals in June, or any baseball at all in October, you know that as sidereal wrote yesterday, it's Mission Improbable, not Mission Impossible.
So, if our boys in rave green are going to win tomorrow evening, it's going to have to go down like this, maybe exactly like this:
Center back Nat Borchers sits out with a bum knee, while Jamison Olave, bad quad and all, starts in his usual position, meaning to anchor the defense. Seattle capitalizes swiftly. At the 14' mark, Olave gets beat by Fucito at the edge of the box and tackles the Sounder from behind, cleats up, right as Mike was arming his wide-open shot.
Justice is served, and Olave is sent off. Fredy Montero curls the resulting free kick just inside the post, and Seattle leads 1-0.
Down a man, RSL settles into an even more defensive posture, and manages an even more physical brand of soccer than last Saturday at Rio Tinto. The game reaches new heights (lows) in sloppiness. Every Seattle foul sends the opponent into writhing agony, burning valuable seconds off the clock. The slightest contact, or no contact at all, sends players to the turf, limbs splayed. Every Seattle cross into the box is met with seven or more RSL defenders. Hasty clearances abound.
The Sounders control possession for 35 of the first 45 minutes, earning ten corners during that time, and approximately seven billion throw-ins. RSL's formation resembles a 6-2-1. But even that might be generous in terms of midfielders.
Borchers is visibily less than 100 percent -- he's frustrated by his discomfort, plus the yellow he earned for delay of game at 25', and Fredy's antics (Montero is booked for diving in the 40th minute) are really getting on his nerves. After a bad clearance from teammate Rauwshan McKenzie, the RSL center back makes a mental mistake and trips Neagle inside the box during first-half stoppage time.
Ozzie converts to make it 2-0 at the break.
Energized by hope and a raucous crowd that senses history in the making, the Sounders attack without abandon to begin the second half. (There is no tomorrow, after all.) Fucito sends a bullet off the crossbar at the 52' mark; Brad Evans heads one just wide in the 53rd.
Predictably, RSL gets its best opportunity on a counter.
Caught one-on-one against Seattle nemesis Alvario Saborio, Keller makes the save of the season, using his left toe to flick away the striker's shot, at the very last fraction of a second, and this after Saborio had already faked left, then driven right, seemingly around the keeper and toward an open net. Sixty-five minutes have been played. That would be RSL's best chance in regulation.
Pulling out all the stops, Sigi inserts Mauro Rosales for Erik Friberg in the 72nd minute. It takes all of eight minutes for the Argentine to make his impact felt. After executing a brilliant give-and-go with Montero on the right wing, Rosales races down the sideline, fakes McKenzie to the turf, dribbles into the box, draws keeper Nick Rimando away from his line, and that's exactly when Mauro lifts a perfect cross to an unmarked Lamar Neagle at the far post, who casually heads it in for the equalizer. Bedlam.
A couple of unthreatening corner kicks and muffed chances later, we head to overtime.
Not two minutes have passed in the extra period when Saborio breaks free again. El Presidente has no choice but to pull him down from behind. Hurtado probably saves a goal, but the sides are now even at 10 apiece. Nothing comes from the free kick.
With the season reduced to fewer than thirty minutes, caution sets in. Chances make themselves more rare.
112'. Ochoa, who'd replaced Fucito to begin overtime, is whistled offside on a breakaway. Not hearing the whistle, he plays on, scores a goal that does not count, and is accosted by RSL defender Robbie Russell. The two had exchanged less-than-friendly elbows only a minute earlier. Ochoa bumps Russell with his shoulder on his way back to midfield, and Russell pushes back, only his forearm catches Sammy's chin, bloodying his mouth.
Trainers come on; Russell is booked. Ochoa heads to the sideline to stop the bleeding. He points at Russell on his way over there. The assistant referee deems this unsportsmanlike, and Ochoa gets served a yellow too, for good measure. Sensing an opportunity, the wily veteran Rosales jaws with RSL defenders while the head ref puts the ball back in play, and the Sounders restart quickly. A distracted defense lets Montero slide in behind them, and this time, there is no flag from the sideline as Fredy easily beats Rimando.
With 37,000 semi-hoarse fans cheering them on, the Sounders hold on for the final ten minutes, which feel like a week.
If breaks align.