Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Two second-half goals from Seattle Sounders ensured a win over Real Salt Lake, although a late comeback - led, surprisingly, by the RSL reserves - was scuppered.
Midfield rookie John Stertzer grabbed RSL's sole goal of the match, a well-finished effort after he collected a rebound from a Khari Stephenson long shot.
Seattle's goals saw the RSL defense - at the time, it consisted of Tony Beltran, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Chris Schuler and Kenny Mansally - exposed in the second half, with attacking midfielder Mario Martinez unleashing a volley not-unreminiscent of the scorcher that punished RSL in the 2012 playoffs.
The first half featured a slightly unusual shift in the diamond, with Yordany Alvarez and Sebastian Velasquez occupying the left and right flanks, respectively, and Ned Grabavoy leading the midfield at the top of the diamond. This enabled the midfield to pinch in a bit, but it also featured a bit of diamond-flattening that perhaps hindered play. The shift, though, gave Mansally much room to operate on the left flank, and the player was naturally a creative force at full back.
Additionally, some particularly important signs emerged from Alvarez's performance in more outside-of-the-diamond roles. He rarely is handed opportunities as a defensive midfielder to showcase his more creative qualities, and those shone through at times further up the pitch.
Grabavoy at the top of the diamond at times struggled to cope with the physical play, and he came off at the half after taking multiple knocks. He did, however, move the ball positively in a more flat attacking midfield three alongside Alvarez and Sebastian Velasquez.
RSL coach Jason Kreis's wholesale changes later in the second half saw an energized group take the pitch. David Viana was perhaps the star of the bunch, showing fantastic amounts of skill during his 30-minute appearance. Enzo Martinez, playing in the base of the diamond, displayed a knack for long passes, while Khari Stephenson improved on his last match with an array of building play. So, too, did Devon Sandoval, who was active, positive, and good with the ball at his feet.
Finally, Lovel Palmer, also on late in the second half, showed perhaps why Kreis and general manager Garth Lagerwey were keen to sign him, as he played a vocal role in a relatively young back line.