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Can Sounders get past Real Salt Lake in first round of playoffs?

Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press

The Sounders play their final game of the regular season this Sunday against the LA Galaxy in California.

Next weekend, they face Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals - in a rematch from last year.

The Sounders have made it to the Major League Soccer playoffs all four years of their existence, but have yet to make it to round two. KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says it's tough to say if this will be their year.

A better record - but is it enough?

The Sounders lost to Real Salt Lake once and tied with them twice in the regular season. They do have a better record this year, at 15-7-11. 

Art says the Sounders have had a good season - but they wanted to have a GREAT one.

"The Sounders really aspire higher. They want to be a world class club. They want to win the MLS Cup. They want to win all these other secondary prizes."

Those secondary prizes would be the U.S. Open and the Champions League of the Confederation of Central, North American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).

The Sounders lost the U.S. Open cup to Sporting Kansas City this year - after winning it the last three years in a row. They're 4-0 in group play in CONCACAF and are moving on in that international tournament.

Is it too much?

Art says there are concerns about everything the team has taken on.

"It's a very complicated thing to try to have enough quality players over the course of the season to survive injuries and to survive the ambitious schedule that the Sounders have set out for themselves to be a world class club. I think the Sounders really do have to manage their energy and resources in a way that gets them ready for the November playoffs."

Deep roster, strong goalie

Art says the Sounders have been able to stay competitive throughout the season - with talent that runs deep.

"I think the Sounders have really done well to manage injuries and fatigue to get to where they are, given the ambitious schedule."

Art points to the additions of premiere scorer Eddie Johnson and talented midfielder Christian Tiffert. He says the team feels its manpower is the best it's been.

And then there's the new goalie.

"Probably the biggest question mark going into the season was goalkeeping, because Kasey Keller retired. He was a very strong figure in goal. In Michael Gspurning, they got a guy who's very nearly Kasey's equal."

Art points out that the Sounders' mid-season slump coincided with Gspurning's 13-game absence with a hip injury. He's healthy now and ready to go.

Expect drama

Art says it's tough to say how the Sounders will do against Real Salt Lake - since they never beat them this season. But he does think they have a chance to move on for the first time.

"The Sounders seem to be just about ready to have all hands on deck for Real Salt Lake. And I think that's going to be a pretty dramatic matchup because RSL has got an edge in veteran, experienced players. The Sounders have to make it up on pure talent."

The semifinals will consist of two games - one in Seattle and one in Salt Lake. It has yet to be determined which team will have home-field advantage. The team with the most goals at the end of two games will advance.

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.