When you sub on almost an entire team of fresh players to play against a mostly unchanged side that's already been on the field for a half, it would be easy to overestimate the quality of the new players. But even with that caveat in mind, the Seattle team playing in the second half looked more aggressive, more confident, and more energized, and in the end they earned the victory.
At the beginning, the game hinted that we may be in for a similar slugfest to the previous match against New England, which ended with two red cards and two "preseason red cards" when Osvaldo Alonso was forced to sub off early. Zach Scott in particular looked up for a brawl with a couple of hard tackles in the back from his experimental central defensive spot beside Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. Seattle managed to turn down the dial on the physicality, which kept the game flowing even as RSL kept it up with a few hard tactical fouls and a hard knock into Adam Johansson's knee. He was able to get up quickly after the challenge but would be subbed off a few minutes later for DeAndre Yedlin.
The physicality and the lack of sharpness contributed to a grinder of a first half, when the ball spent most of the time in midfield and neither team could manage to keep possession for more than a few consecutive passes. The Yedlin sub gave a hint that it would be the subs who made the difference today, as the rookie quickly became involved in the attack on the right culminating in a sweet pass to David Estrada in the RSL box for a shot that was the best Seattle chance of the half. That helped spark a final 10 minutes or so of the first half with better movement and better flow, with some promising penetration by Steve Zakuani and Eddie Johnson.
But it was in the early second half, with only Scott, Michael Gspurning, and Alonso retained from the starting lineup, that Seattle took control for long enough to decide the match. Much of that was thanks to the quick passing of Mario Martinez (who arguably shouldn't be considered a Reserve anyway) to get the ball into the attack quickly and the ball-hawking of Alex Caskey on the left wing. The first goal came from those players, when Caskey and Sammy Ochoa combined to get the ball deep into the corner for a cross that was poorly cleared to Martinez, who lined up for a half-volley across Rimando that was almost a copy of the one that sent the Sounders to the Western Conference Finals last season.
The second goal came just a few minutes later when an Andy Rose pass put Alonso through into the right side of the box. His early shot was saved by Rimando but the rebound fell right to trialist Phillip Lund, who knocked it into the open net before unveiling some kind of Gangnam-style jig thing that must be all the rage in Denmark.
That dynamic held until the last 10 minutes or so of the match, when RSL sent in their own subs and Seattle settled into the all-too-common 'we have a 2-0 lead' bunker that gave the opponent chance after chance. One of those chances came through when Servando Carrasco was blantantly cleared out from behind at the top of the box, but no foul was called and the ball fell to RSL who found an open shot in the box that got past Josh Ford.
The win gives Seattle a spot in the final match, no matter what happens in their third group game against New York, who plays New England tonight. That final will be played with Reserves, as the starters will have played Veracruz just the day before to tune up for CCL play. But based on today's evidence, it may be the reserves that give Seattle the better chance of winning that match.