Seattle Sounders FC heads to Rio Tinto Stadium for a decisive battle with Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals on Thursday, and the visitors could be poised for a victory.
The two clubs opened up the two-legged playoff series with a scoreless draw at CenturyLink Field on Friday, a result that greatly favors the Claret and Cobalt after goalkeeper Nick Rimando produced countless stunning saves to deny the Sounders a telling goal.
Seattle did not fare well at Rio Tinto when it fell behind with a 3-0 loss in the first leg of last season's Western Conference semifinals, but head coach Sigi Schmid insists that this Sounders team is better-equipped to come away with a positive result.
"I think we came out and just didn't play well," Schmid told. "We didn't play well and they punished us early and got on top and we could never grab the game back. We were a little bit naive in how we tried to grab the game back, but I think we learned from there and we're a better team than we were last year when we played them in the playoffs."
Real Salt Lake has put up a 42-8-16 home record in MLS play since Rio Tinto opened in 2008, but the club showed some vulnerability at the venue by losing four times there this season.
"We believe in our quality, we know they're a very good team, as well, but we know we've been able to go there in the past and play good games and get good results and that's our expectations," Schmid continued. "We have high expectations of ourselves, we know it's going to be a close game. It's going to be a battle and we're ready to go."
Playing in front of a home crowd on Thursday, Real Salt Lake should be able to get forward a bit more after hunkering down in Seattle. The performance in the first leg can be personified by Rimando's heroics, a showing that head coach Jason Kreis could not praise highly enough.
"I just got off the radio and said it, and I'll say it again," Kreis said after the match. "I think it will have to go down as one of the single best individual performances by any player that's ever worn an RSL jersey."
To make Rimando's display even more legendary, the goalkeeper suffered a broken nose during the run of play but still managed to keep a clean sheet in one of the toughest road environments in MLS.
"We thought he was going to have to come out," Kreis said. "We thought it was going to be a laceration that they couldn't get the blood stopped, and if that's the case, then he has to come out. They did a good job getting the blood stopped and Nick continued on with a real brave effort."