Seattle's offense returned and sparkled, but wasn't perfect.
When a perfect game was needed, the Seattle Sounders merely put forth a great game. Saturday's first leg carried over only one element, the physicality. For the most part it was matched, but in the end Real Salt Lake advanced from the two leg aggregate series. Two goals were not enough, two goals were enough for a win and honor. Reactions to the game are a snapshot of how people approach their love of sport.
Many will be excited, hopeful and focused on all of the successes of the season. Others will be disappointed. They will look to the three straight MLS Cup Playoff failures and still feel after a strong game that Sigi's side didn't do enough. Both are in ways correct. Seattle's target of capturing an MLS Cup in Kasey Keller's final season fell short. Still the squad built by Adrian Hanauer showed more than all but a hand-full of MLS teams throughout history while overcoming several rounds of adversity.
Jason Kreis' side could not match the Seattle awfulness of Saturday, instead choosing to play physical, negative soccer. Sounders players fell into their trap of worrying about referees more than opponents. Two unfortunately also fell out of the match forcing early substitutions as Alvaro Fernandez and Brad Evans left the pitch. Replacing them were Roger Levesque and Lamar Neagle. Both put forward strong performances. The rest of the Rave Green matched or exceeded them.
In a game full of strong performances, the most notable came in the defense. Zach Scott entered the playoff contest helping overall defensive strength, but also symbolizing a more patient and accurate passing attack from the back four. Scott's pass completion rate only hit 59%, but even those errant balls shifted ball position as Seattle immediately snatched the ball back. The return of Osvaldo Alonso sparked a full team defensive effort that held RSL to a mere 57% passing rate.
When a team turns the ball over that much it enables a strong attack. On that cold, wet Wednesday Seattle's attack was as potent as ever, despite losing two of the stronger offensive forces on the squad in the first 21 minutes. Fredy Montero, Mike Fucito, Neagle and Alonso hammered the goal. Placing 17 shots in threatening spaces those four put pressure on Nick Rimando like he rarely sees, maybe never sees. Rimando, and Salt Lake, were saved by a defense that blocked 9 shots.
Fucito won a penalty, proving that Real Salt Lake can not handle his speedy, physical style. Alonso slotted that home. That sparked hope. Later than desired goal one opened things up. In the 61st minute Montero's through-ball found Neagle who put the tight angled shot away.
The mountain would not be summitted though. The third goal never came. Keller kept the game close with one vital save in the 79th minute. His swansong game needed him just one time. That one time showed exactly how good he still is. Kasey Keller never won a league title. His side couldn't do it in his final year. Instead they gave him three US Open Cups, three Playoff appearances, two CCL runs and the most wins in a non-shootout season in MLS history.
2011 may be over, but the fruits of this season will extend into years to come. CONCACAF Champions League knockouts start in early March. Players that entered the season with low expectations create deeper roster competition than Seattle has had yet. The Academy will continue to put out talent. In North America's shortest off-season there is plenty yet to come.