Eddie Johnson's return adds new dimension to rematch with Real Salt Lake
The expected return of their leading scorer could be the difference for the Sounders heading into the final leg of a playoff series versus Real Salt Lake.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sounders FC @ Real Salt Lake, 6:30 p.m.
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TUKWILA — Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid stayed up until 2:30 a.m. Saturday watching tape of a scoreless tie in his team's playoff opener versus Real Salt Lake.
After replaying every dazzling save from RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando and every frustrating miss, the take-away was much the same as it was Friday.
"It was one of those days where it just didn't go in," he said, "but it wasn't a situation of a lack of trying or poor play that put us into that position. I thought we played well."
While Seattle coaches and players said the plan for Thursday's second leg of the Western Conference semifinal was to play the same game, and both teams contend the series will be similarly tight at Rio Tinto Stadium, one thing could be significantly different.
That's the expected return of leading scorer Eddie Johnson, who sat out of Friday's game with an adductor strain but is set to return to full practice Monday and play in the series finale.
Schmid said Johnson was close to being ready for the first leg, as well.
"If it would've been the second leg, and it was the same situation, then we definitely would've put him on the (18-man lineup)," the coach said, "but we decided with it being the first leg we would just wait that little bit."
For a Sounders team desperate for goals — it averages 0.43 per playoff game — Johnson could be the remedy.
Sure, the forward's 14 goals set a franchise record for a season, but his unique physical attributes affect the game in several ways. Seattle had 30 crosses Friday from open play, not including several more off free kicks and corner kicks, but it was without arguably the league's top aerial target in Johnson, whose nine headed goals this year set an MLS record.
Johnson's breakaway speed, which the Sounders also missed Friday, might force the RSL defense to play more conservatively, which could open up space in the middle of the field.
That threat might also open up teammate Fredy Montero, who is scoreless in 603 career playoff minutes after scoring a personal-best 13 goals in the regular season.
"We've always said when Eddie and Fredy are on the field together, it helps them both, because you can't key on one or the other," Schmid said.
Tiffert denies malice in collision
Sounders FC's Christian Tiffert was part of a collision Friday that resulted in Rimando suffering a broken nose and needing stitches, but the Seattle midfielder insists the damage was accidental.
"I think it was there were three guys — two from Salt Lake, and I'm in the middle," Tiffert said. "I think somebody pushed me against the goalkeeper; I talked to him after the game and he knew that it was not my fault."
Rimando said Friday that he didn't think the hit was intentional.
• Midfielder Mauro Rosales is fine, Schmid said, after appearing to be hurt when subbed out late in Friday's game. Defenders Leo Gonzalez (hamstring) and Patrick Ianni (calf) are improving but still limited in practice.
• Schmid said he didn't feel the Seahawks football markings on the field affected his team. "I think it probably looked worse from up top than it looked from on the field itself," he said. "The guys were good about blocking it out of their minds and just playing."
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @joshuamayers