MLS After Dark: Real Salt Lake Advances Past Seattle Without Taking A Single Shot

Real Salt Lake defeated the Seattle Sounders in penalties to reach the Western Conference semifinals.

You can’t win without scoring. I heard that a few times from Fox announcers on Tuesday night, both in the early match in which Nashville remained unbeaten at home by topping Orlando City and in the later match in which one of the favorites to win the MLS Cup, the Seattle Sounders, hosted Real Salt Lake. 

The adage is certainly true in normal contexts, but this is playoff soccer now. Real Salt Lake showed you can survive and advance without even bothering to attempt a shot all game.

Pablo Mastroeni’s seventh-seeded Real Salt Lake, which was the last team to reach the playoffs by way of a 95th-minute goal against Sporting KC, outlasted Seattle in a penalty kick shootout 6-5 to advance to the Western Conference semifinals after a 0-0 draw late Tuesday night in Seattle. 

Salt Lake failed to record a single shot, held only 38 percent possession and didn’t earn a corner kick until extra time. Yet David Ochoa made three saves in goal — on 21 Seattle shots — as RSL knocked out the club with the most points in MLS that didn’t receive a bye in the first round. 

Somehow, a team that recorded a staggering 0.00 expected goals is moving on in the MLS playoffs. 

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure whether I should criticize Mastroeni’s side for not creating more offense or Brian Schmetzer’s Seattle for failing to create better chances at home as the favorite. As the underdog, Salt Lake could afford to sit back and defend, making it difficult on the Sounders. As the home side, Seattle spent 120 minutes huffing and puffing without actually doing anything to really trouble Ochoa in goal. Not even Jordan Morris’ first start of the season could spark the Sounders. 

At least in the other first-round playoff match that went to extra time scoreless, Jakob Glesnes saved the otherwise drab match with a stunning 122nd-minute winner.

Still, it’s shocking for even the biggest of underdogs to go a full match without taking a shot. Here are the highlights, though there’s not really much to watch until the shootout, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Seattle vs Real Salt Lake Highlights

In the penalty kick shootout, the brash 20-year-old keeper David Ochoa, who has had quite the 2021, tried to emulate Emiliano Martínez at this summer’s Copa América. Ochoa’s year started with a stellar performance to open Olympic qualifying for the U.S., followed by a nightmare howler to cost the U.S. a spot in said Olympics, followed by a switch in nationalities to Mexico and an apparent desire to become a villain in MLS.

During the shootout, Ochoa bounced around and appeared to be talking trash, but he came nowhere close to saving the first four Seattle penalties. He finally got a fingertip to Nicolás Lodeiro’s fifth attempt before making the only save of the shootout on former RSL midfielder Kelyn Rowe. (Stefan Frei also had a save, but he was well off his line so it was retaken; Frei appeared to be off his line on other attempts he failed to save.)

Justen Glad then barely snuck his effort past Frei to send RSL through to the next round. 

Seattle vs Real Salt Lake Penalty Shootout Highlights

To make the moment even better for Salt Lake fans, watch Glad’s sister watch and react to her brother taking the winning penalty. 

I’m pretty confident my sister would not be that excited for me, so good for the Glad family. 

Real Salt Lake, the only road team to win in the first round, advances to play Sporting KC yet again on Sunday, exactly three weeks after Damir Kreilach’s 95th-minute winner over the Western Conference power. In that match, Salt Lake had 15 shots, so maybe this time around they’ll at least make Tim Melia work a little more than Frei.