There's no good way of putting this: The Seattle Sounders are in a ridiculously deep hole right now. How deep? Since Major League Soccer went to its current playoff format in 2003, no team has ever trailed by three goals in the first leg and only seven teams have trailed by two after the first leg. Heck, only eight teams have ever trailed by three goals at any point in the entire two-legged conference semifinals.
There are some small rays of hope, though. The most obvious is that both of Real Salt Lake's starting center backs, Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, were removed from Saturday's game with injuries. Olave (right quad) went out in the 32nd minute and Borchers (left knee) went out in the 84th. Both will travel with the team, but are being called game-time decisions.
Losing one or both of those players would be a significant blow to RSL. Together, they form arguably the best center back pairing in MLS.
With them both Olave and Borchers on the field, RSL allowed 1.05 goals per game. The only team to allow fewer goals per game this year was the Los Angeles Galaxy. They also posted a +9 goal difference in those 21 games, or an average of .38 per game.
Without at least one of them, RSL is not nearly as dominant. In the 13 MLS matches played without at least one of their starting center backs, RSL has played to an even goal-difference and given up 1.23 goals per match. That average would place them as the seventh best team in MLS.
The primary backup to both Olave and Borchers has been Chris Schuler. The 24-year-old is no slouch. At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds he's a big dude and has earned the trust of coach Jason Kreis enough to be given 16 starts and 20 appearances in MLS play alone. He was the first player off the bench on Saturday, subbing in for the injured Olave in the 32nd minute. If anything, the RSL defense seemed to get better from that point forward.
The real question is what RSL does if both Borchers and Olave are out. RSL only played one game with neither of those players on the field, and it's probably safe to say there's not much to be learned from it. It was back in April when RSL was in the midst of the CONCACAF Champions League final and sent a skeleton crew to New England. They won that game 2-0, for whatever it's worth.
Rauwshan McKenzie was the player that started alongside Schuler that day, and he would seem to be the most obvious choice to get the call on Wednesday. But that was also just one of two MLS appearance McKenzie made all season and just the ninth time he had played during his four-year MLS career.
It would not necessarily be shocking if Kreis elected to go with a more experienced player, even if they aren't primarily a center back. Among Kreis' options are Tony Beltran and Robbie Russell, one of whom will likely start at right back. Beltran has made 57 MLS starts over the past three seasons and has been one of RSL's more dependable defenders, but he's played almost exclusively at fullback. He also hasn't played since Sept. 10, the game in which he received two yellow cards against the Sounders. Beltran is currently listed as questionable due to an adductor strain that has been nagging him for several weeks.
At 6-foot-2, Russell looks a bit more like a center back than the 5-foot-8 Beltran, but he hasn't played there much either. In fact, Russell has started almost exclusively at right back throughout his four-year MLS career. Still, he's a physical presence and his overall experience could tip the scales in his favor.
Aside from the potentially wounded defense they'll be playing, the other bit of hope for the Sounders' comes from their own offense. Outscoring any opponent by three goals is obviously very difficult, but the Sounders have shown an ability to score in bunches this year.
Across all competitions, they've scored at least three goals 10 times. In half of those instances, they scored at least three goals in the second half alone. They've also won by at least three goals four different times, all of them coming at CenturyLink Field.
None of this means the Sounders are likely to come back, obviously. But being down 3-0 with the season on the ropes, you take what you can get.