Real Salt Lake-Sounders Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- The Seattle Sounders claim they're not in search of payback.
Real Salt Lake, though, would like a repeat performance, including goals.
A year after a key injury partly led to being eliminated from the playoffs by Salt Lake, the Sounders hope another likely major absence doesn't play a role in Friday night's opener of this two-leg series with the Western Conference rival.
Seattle (15-8-11) has failed to advance in the playoffs since joining MLS in 2009, falling at this stage every time.
Last year's elimination at the hands of RSL (17-11-6) came via a 3-2 aggregate score, despite the Sounders winning the second leg at home 2-0.
Now, Seattle will try to return the favor, but coach Sigi Schmid insists revenge isn't a motivator.
"It's not about payback," Schmid told the team's official website. "It's about advancing. All we want to do is advance and advancing will give us the payback."
Advancing last year was made tougher as injured midfielder Mauro Rosales missed both games against Salt Lake, leaving Seattle without its leader in assists (13).
This time, the Sounders may be without top scorer Eddie Johnson, who is carrying a left adductor strain suffered in the first half of Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Los Angeles in the regular-season finale.
Johnson revived his flagging career with 14 goals - good for sixth in the league - after four inauspicious years in Europe.
"There's an outside chance on Friday and for sure the second game (Thursday) shouldn't be a problem," Schmid said of Johnson's availability. "The guys that are healthy to play are the guys that are going to play. Just as last year, we missed Mauro, and if Eddie can't play, we'll miss him. Other guys will have to step up and do the business."
One of those players is Fredy Montero, who had 13 goals during the regular season, but just two in the last nine games. The forward hasn't scored in the last five meetings with RSL, including last year's playoff series.
Unlike those two matchups, this series is likely to see scoring at a premium after the teams totaled one goal in the three-game season series.
Fabian Espindola tallied that goal in Salt Lake's 1-0 win at Seattle on May 12. The teams played to scoreless draws in each of the next two matchups, including another visit to CenturyLink Field on Oct. 17.
That was the first of three straight scoreless ties for RSL, including Saturday against Vancouver in the MLS regular-season finale. The team failed to find the net four days prior versus Costa Rica's Herediano, getting knocked out of CONCACAF Champions League.
"Literally, I think that is just six inches this way or that way with some of the passes, or the final touches, or somebody just calms down to make a little bit better decision when on the attacking third," coach Jason Kreis said. "But I also think that it can be a positive thing to have a little disappointment in our minds heading into the playoffs to give us a little bit of an extra edge."
Alvaro Saborio finished the season third in MLS with a career-high 17 goals, scoring four in the past eight contests. However, three came in a 4-0 victory over Chivas USA on Sept. 29.
The forward hasn't scored in the past three meetings with Seattle after netting two goals in the first leg of last year's playoff series.
Updated November 1, 2012