The Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake had a lot on the line Saturday when they took the pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium.
So when RSL picked up a couple of early goals — each fluky in its own way — it held on for dear life and preserved the 2-0 advantage all the way to the end.
Seattle (11-13-20) opened the MLS match just minutes after the San Jose Earthquakes drew even with them for sixth and seventh place in the Western Conference — a crucial distinction where sixth place qualifies for the playoffs and seventh place sits at home.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake (8-10-8) opened six points out of playoff position, and with Seattle one of its key competitors for that final spot, the game loomed as something very close to a must-win match for the home team.
After the 2-0 result, RSL has renewed hope in the West, and the Sounders continue to have work to do even as their roster creeps slowly closer to full strength.
Salt Lake got a break in the 12th minute when a ball at the top of the Seattle penalty area bounced up and struck the outstretched arm of Sounders defender Roman Torres. RSL goals leader Javier Morales nailed the PK for his sixth goal of the season.
RSL doubled the lead seven minutes later when midfielder Luke Mulholland smacked a shot off the crossbar, but teammate Sebastian Jaime headed in the rebound.
That was enough as the Sounders failed to get anything past RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Seattle went with a near repeat lineup of the one that had roared to a 4-0 win over Orlando City last weekend. The only change was Aaron Kovar at left midfield, replacing Lamar Neagle. However, Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez were up top, offering some offensive promise, even as Clint Dempsey, Chad Barrett, Osvaldo Alonso and Marco Pappa remained unavailable.
The Sounders will return home Sunday before heading down to Honduras for their CONCACAF Champions League match Wednesday at CD Olimpia.
Seattle’s next MLS match is Aug. 30 when Portland visits fully opened CenturyLink Field. The club announced Saturday that more than 60,000 tickets already have been sold for that match.
WEDNESDAY: Seattle at CD Olimpia in Honduras, 7 p.m., 97.3-FM
NEXT MLS GAME: Aug. 30, Portland at Seattle, 7 p.m., ESPN, 97.3-FM