Well it is match day and that means it is time to take a look at what I think will be the players and match ups that will be the key factors in the match. It has been interesting this week to hear what the players, fans, and coaches have had to say about RSL vs Seattle and if this is a rivalry in the making or something different.
I think it comes down to what you consider a rivalry, for me it probably more about the intensity of the matches both being played and in the stands. I don’t believe I have to hate a team or their fans for them to be a rival, but some do. I think the intensity of matches as well as the importance of the matches between RSL and Seattle have created a rivalry but one that if probably focused more on respect than hate. I consider that both are teams that joined MLS well into the history of the league, each side has taken a very different path to success both on and off the pitch, one is building their history day by day and one has laid claim to a history built in other leagues. More on the rivalry aspect later;
Javier Morales – While I don’t expect Javi to start the match, you never know, but I do think that with several road matches in front of RSL in coming weeks that they will try to get Javi into the match at some point to get him further on his road to full match fitness. This could be a very good thing for RSL, or a very bad thing. Javi has never scored a goal or provided an assist against Seattle in the 6 regular season matches he has played against them, and has often been victimized by a “hack-a-Javi” style of defense. Still it should be interesting to see how he does on Saturday.
Nick Rimando – While Nick missed the FC Dallas match last weekend, he looked ready to go at practice on Saturday and he has been excellent against Seattle in the past with and impressive 0.88 GAA in the 8 regular season matches he has played in. After his time with the USMNT, we should expect that Nick will be at top form both physically and mentally for what has been in the past and will likely be a very intense match. Nick has 4 clean sheets against the Sounders, and could be pass the 100 career shut out mark on Saturday? Well the Sounders have scored just a single goal in their 3 league matches so far this season.
Devon Sandoval – With Sabo just making it back from Costa Rica and having picked up a bit of a knock, could Jason give a big share of the minutes on Saturday to impressive rookie Devon Sandoval? I believe so, Devon was a known quantity having trained with RSL last summer and when the team drafted him I don’t think anyone (except maybe Jason) expected him to adjust and be productive so quickly. His size and skill make him a very dangerous player, and he seems to have a nose for goal as we have seen in reserve league action as well as last week in Dallas where a lucky deflection kept him off the scoreboard. Starting or off the bench I think Devon could provide a tough test for the Seattle defense.
Eddie Johnson – The “Grown Ass Man” has been a delightful surprise for the Sounders since his return to MLS, enough so that he has again become a regular fixture as part of the USMNT again. So while he may have been teammates with Kyle, Nick, and Tony on Tuesday night in Mexico City, he will be the enemy on Saturday afternoon. Eddie has the lone Sounders MLS goal this season, and while he hasn’t scored against RSL while wearing a Sounders kit, he does have 3 goals in 6 matches played against RSL. Eddie did have 14 goals and 3 assists last year with the Sounders, and he could prove to be more than a handful for the RSL defenders on Saturday.
Andy Rose – A Rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, is the saying but in this case it has appeared to just not be true. RSL drafted Andy in the supplemental draft last year for the sole purpose of trading him to Seattle for the rights to Leone Cruz. While Rose has become a staple part of the Sounders roster, Leone didn’t survive the cut at RSL and was released. Now the big English midfielder will be looking for more chances to prove his value to the Sounders, he has featured in all 3 of the MLS matches so far this season with over 200 minutes played. He is a dangerous player on both sides of the ball and one that could have RSL fans wondering what might have been on Saturday.
DeAndre Yedlin – A lot of RSL fans might be asking who the hell Yedlin is, but trust me it is very likely they will know more than they care to about him by the time the match Saturday is over. He is a HGP for the Sounders and despite being just 19, he has played every minute of their 3 league matches so far this season and has been a bright spot of their back line. He isn’t a huge player but he is very quick, he loves to get forward into the attack and isn’t shy of physical play. I do think that he is a bit reckless as he is trying to prove his worth, and he has been fortunate to not pick up any cards yet despite some very borderline challenges. Still it is good to see the Sounders academy system paying off and DeAndre is a player who could do that in a very big way.
The rivalry that isn’t – I will let others determine if this really is a rivalry or not, for me it has been for the last two seasons, and here is why. When the two teams meet on the pitch it is intense as the record shows, both sides have scored 7 goals in their 9 regular season matches, both have scored 3 goals in their 4 MLS playoff matches. RSL holds an edge in the regular season with a 3-2-4 record, but the Sounders off of last years 1-0 playoff win at Rio Tinto hold a 2-1-1 edge in playoff matches, with both sides having won a single playoff series against the other. In four seasons are there two more evenly matched sides?
RSL returning players vs. Seattle’s unknown lineup – RSL gets 5 players who were gone with their various national teams last week, plus a couple of players back from injuries heading into this match, which is a very good thing. The other side of the match is a very different situation, on Tuesday the Sounders will face Santos at CenturyLink field in the home leg of their Champions League semi-final. That could cause a number of players to be rested on Saturday, or to play a more limited role in the match, and while that might seem like a huge edge for RSL, this Sounders team is very deep as we saw in the final of the Desert Diamond Cup this winter. I don’t think it will matter much what the lineups look like, expect a tough fought match with neither side being willing to give up much to the other.
3 points at home a must for Real Salt Lake – I know it is far too early to label a match as a must win, but considering the opponent I think this one deserves the label. Remember it was the Sounders who ended RSL’s record home winning streak, it was the Sounders who put RSL out of the playoffs last year on a late goal at Rio Tinto, and add in that RSL will on the road against two Western conference foes the next two weeks. This is a match where it is likely someone other than Alvaro Saborio will need to step up and score, something that hasn’t happened yet this season. This is a match where RSL can extend the gap in the standings between themselves and the Sounders and that is something that could be huge later in the season. This is a match where RSL can re-establish Rio Tinto Stadium as their fortress, a reputation that has earned the respect of opponents and US Soccer (we are the only place guaranteed two USMNT matches this summer).
I think the Sounders are going to rest some guys, they know how important the Champions League is to Major League Soccer and you know they would love to be the first MLS team to win the tournament. This will provide RSL’s returning players to take advantage of a team that may not be as focused as they usually are, but I think RSL will need to strike quickly and often if they are to turn this into 3 points. With some different names likely in the lineups for both sides, keeping mistakes limited will be a key for both teams, while punishing any mistakes of your opponents could be the difference between 3,1 or 0 points. I look for RSL to get a couple of early goals, and then hold on for a 2-0 win over the Sounders.
That’s How I See It