It is gut check time for the Sounders. After failing to put away the Houston Dynamo last week, the Sounders enter a MUST-WIN scenario this Sunday to guarantee themselves a playoff spot. Seattle will welcome Real Salt Lake (shortened to RSL and nicknames The Claret and Cobalt; Never, ever, called The Lions) to a fully open Centurylink Field.
Seattle has earned three consecutive draws; a mediocre to ok series of results. These results have been against lesser opponents. Had any of the past three matches been wins, Seattle would not have to fight this weekend to make the playoffs.
The opponent, a reeling RSL squad, already been eliminated from MLS Cup playoffs, just finished their CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) group play on Tuesday night. RSL won their last match 1-0 in Salt Lake City (Sandy) vs. CSD Municipal. Salt Lake ran out their best 11 in an all out effort to advance to the knock out stages of the CCL. Those matches start in February.
What this means for the second meeting of the season is that RSL will not be well rested, and we may not see their top players. Tuesday night RSL was missing two of their starters, Luis Silva and forward Joao Plata. The Claret-and-Cobalt will at this point be playing for pride and would love to knock the Sounders out of the playoffs, but may not put their best players at risk in a match that is meaningless to them.
If the Sounders falter this week with a tie or loss, the key matchup to watch is an FC Dallas vs San Jose Quakes game Sunday evening. FC Dallas undoubtedly will be playing all-out to earn themselves a Supporters shield. However, a win by the Quakes coupled with a loss/tie by the Sounders would see The Rave Green miss the playoffs for the first time ever.
RSL won’t cry for Seattle, Real Salt Lake saw their streak of seven consecutive appearances in the MLS Cup Playoffs put to an end following their 1-0 defeat by FC Dallas at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday evening. An angry RSL will not one to be messed with coming off a CONCACAF Champions League play win. They will be playing for pride; Surly they will revel in their role as spoilers, as well as the Sounders eternal “Boogeymen.”
Western Conference Standings
This year the offense begins, is funneled through, and ends with Midfielder Javier Morales. Javier leads the teams in shots on goal, goals, and assists. With 49 shots (20 on target), 8 goals, and 11 assists.
Offensive players to keep track of are: midfielder Javier Morales and forward Sebastian Jaime (though he has been coming off of the bench lately) who netted goals early in the match to pace Real to a 2-0 win vs. Sounders FC Aug. 22 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Forwards Joao Plata (4 goals) and Jaime (5 goals) are parti of an interesting trio of forwards. Jaime, the Argentine, is less about leading the line and more about carving out chances for himself and others. The diminutive Ecuadorian, Plata 23, is a change of pace striker with a bright future ahead of him. However, his size (5’2″) stature is a drawback on set pieces.
Two other players to watch. Since RSL’s brand new Designated Player (DP) Juan “Burrito” Martinez, added this summer, joined RSL, he has been everything that a DP is supposed to be. He makes great runs, shoots well with either foot, and passes exceptionally well. He is the best player on the pitch for RSL; surpassing the gravitas and skill that Morales has. Expect Seattle to focus on both of those players.
The X-factor for RSL may well be the second player: Devon Sandoval. A tireless worker (think Nelson Valdez), he is a classic number 9 (back to the goal forward; think of a center in basketball. Montreal’s Didier Drogba is the current gold standard in MLS for the position) who passes well, posts up defenders well, and of late has found his shooting touch. The reason he is dangerous is that he will likely be ignored by Sounders defenders, who will be more focused on Martinez, Morales, and Plata (if he plays).
There is an immense amount of talent here on RSL’s front line. This collection of talent explains their reason for switching from a 4-4-2 diamond that was the hallmark of the Jason Kreis/Garth Lagerwey era in Salt Lake, to the current 4-3-3 attacking formation. A note on the formation: it is a true 4-3-3, it is not a modified version of the 4-2-3-1 (4-5-1) that is so popular. The forwards play very high up the pitch and do track back on defense, but normally will stay wide to harass the other teams fullbacks.
Real Salt Lake Defense
The Sounders get a monumental break in that star Midfielder Kyle Beckerman will not play due to yellow card accumulation. The dreadlocked Beckerman functions similar to Osvaldo Alonso, as the “midfield destroyer”; he is the counterattack-wrecking defensive superstar. The rest of the RSL defense has been problematic this year. The RSL defense has been very porous this season. Seattle forwards Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey and Nelson Valdez should have a heyday on the counterattack.
RSL goalie Nick “The Wall of Wasatch” Rimando has done a tremendous job in a very trying season. The 36-year-old has 8 shutouts on the year in spite of the sieve-like defense. Rimando is just the second player in MLS history to reach 100 regular season shutouts.
Out for this week:
- D Chris Schuler (fractured left foot, out for season)
- M Kyle Beckerman (yellow card accumulation)
- D Roman Torres (left ACL tear, out for season)
According to Sounders Head Coach, Sigi Schmid, Everyone other than the players on the DL are available and fully practiced on Wednesday. That means Nelson Valdez, Marco Papa, and Oniel Fisher are all available vs. The Claret-and-Cobalt.
SSU Matchup to Watch:
Defender Chad Marshall and Defender Brad Evans MUST stop the all out assault from RSL. Whether they can stop the attacking trio of Sebastian Jaime, Joao Plata, and “Burrito” Martinez will decide this game. Expect RSL to not worry about defense and go out there and have fun. We should see a 3 forward attack with emphasis on padding their stats to a lost season.
Sounders 3 Real Salt Lake 2
Real Salt Lake are at the bottom of the table team; however, they are the Sounders boogeyman. They always matchup well versus the Sounders. The pessimist in me forsees RSL earning a number of bookings as they attempt to intimidate and bully The Rave Green. Expect frustration to set in, the Sounders to have to score late to win the game and make the playoffs.
Sunday 4pm PT
Broadcast: TV: JOE TV, MLS Live– Radio: KIRO 97.3 El Rey 1360 AM
Have your own prediction or comment on the game? Join the SSU community, leave a comment below and like us on Facebook.
Follow us during the game @SeattleSideUp on Twitter and watch us Sundays at 8:30pm (PST) on YouTube, as we discuss this game and all things Seattle sports.