If there has been a bigger MLS regular season match this season than the Friday night showdown between RSL and Seattle, please tell me what it is. Real Salt Lake has been holding on to first place in both the Western Conference and overall MLS table for a couple months, the Sounders are the hottest team in MLS, so when they meet for the final time of the regular season with a possible swing of 6 points on the line, well expect a very intense match.
Of course every time these two teams meet it tends to be intense, only 2 of the 11 regular season matches have been decided by more than a single goal (a 2-0 Seattle win in March 2009, and RSL’s 2-0 win in June of this year), there have been 3 0-0 draws in the regular season series that sees RSL hold a 5-2-4 advantage and even a 2-1-2 edge in Seattle. The Sounders have 7 wins in their last 10 matches and 4 straight wins and have clawed their way into second place in the West, RSL had a rough July but went 3-1-2 in August to and have scored multiple goals in their last 4 matches.
Kyle Beckerman – I always get a good laugh out of MLS fans who seem to have a strict love/hate relationship with Kyle, it is the same at the USMNT level. I get it, he plays hard, he is always in the middle of the action, and if your team is playing against him you will likely resort to making fun of his hair. Why, because you can find so few flaws in his game, if he is called on to be the guy who breaks up plays in the midfield before they can develop, he does it, if he is called on to be more offensive minded, he can do that too. No matter what the coach asks of him, he can do it. Yes he does have a +10 when it comes to fouls committed vs fouls suffered, but surprisingly he has only been whistled for 24 fouls all season. Off the pitch he is a laid back, mellow guy, soft spoken and great with fans, but when he steps on the pitch he is a warrior pure and simple. I remember hating him when he was with the Rapids, that is the kind of player he is, you hate him when he is playing against your team, but when he is on your side, you can’t help but love him.
Nick Rimando – Since joining RSL Nick has simply been rock solid, that effort has earned him a spot with the USMNT and the admiration of throngs of RSL fans. Nick will eventually hold a good number of MLS records, and when he is forced to make a save you are likely to see it nominated for Save of the Week. Nick has been in goal for 13 of RSL’s 14 wins this season, he has 8 clean sheets in those matches and a GAA (goals against average) of 1.00 in MLS action this year, and one of a few keepers in MLS with an assist. Having just gotten back from another stint with the USMNT, Nick will be facing a couple of guys on Friday that he has seen a lot of in practice with the US, as Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey will play a role when we face Seattle. No worries for RSL fans, Nick has faced the Sounders 10 times and has an impressive 0.80 GAA against them, hopefully he will pick up another clean sheet Friday night.
Jason Kreis – While if Jason doesn’t pick up the MLS coach of the year trophy this year it will be a huge shame, faced with a squad that was more than a million dollars over the salary cap heading into this season, Jason and the staff made huge moves. Oh I know we don’t like to call it a rebuild, but we dropped or traded all but one of our forwards, traded away a couple other All Stars and ended up with a better team in the end. Now not all of that falls on Jason, who is the first to mention the work of the entire staff and team, but he is the leader of RSL and if you aren’t impressed with what he has done this year, it can only be that you aren’t paying attention.
Jason has been the coach for RSL since the Sounders joined the league, so he has a 5-2-4 record against them, RSL earns an average of 1.73 points per match each time we face the Sounders, that is a very good number. This year Jason has shown the ability to adjust our lineup when call ups or injuries have been the issue, RSL has played 27 different players this season, and RSL has ventured away from their 4-4-2 diamond a couple of times to throw a different look at opponents. I know that the league tends to honor coaches for improvement, but something has to be said for consistency, Jason has made RSL not only one of the most entertaining teams to watch but one that is consistently among the best teams in the league.
Eddie Johnson – I have always like Eddie Johnson, I think I like forwards with some swagger, but one has to wonder if this Eddie has finally grown up. While he took time to explain and apologize for his “pay me” celebration, I don’t think he needed to, the guy has talent and while there are always ups and downs with forwards, he came back to MLS at what has to be the lowest pay level since turning pro. Maybe that is what fueled the fire, both in MLS and at the USMNT level, the result has been, results, for the Sounders he has 7 goals and 2 assists in 16 matches played. Will he get a raise, most likely, can we expect that he will continue to deliver, most likely. He has also delivered against RSL, in 8 previous matches (6 of those with KC) he has scored 3 goals, none of those have come as a member of the Sounders, and hopefully we can keep him cold in Rave Green for a few more matches.
Clint Dempsey – Again, I have always been a Clint Dempsey fan, I remember being livid when MLS blocked his early attempt to head overseas to play, and loved watching him prove that a kid from a little town in Texas could play and succeed on the biggest soccer stage in the world. I am happy that he is back in MLS, while I may have some issues with how it happened, it should be great for the Sounders to have him on their roster. There is no denying the talent, the question is when, not if, he gels with the rest of their roster and the goals start coming, for me I can only hope that it takes until next year.
Osvaldo Alonso – I expect that Sounders fans look at Osvaldo the same way I do at Kyle Beckerman, the guy who will set the physical tone of the match in the midfield, the guy who is willing to get his hands dirty when need be, the guy who isn’t afraid to go one on one with anyone. So it is no surprise that while I respect Alonso, I tend to see him thru claret tinted glasses and wonder how a guy with 41 fouls committed has just 2 yellow cards this season? His +11 fouls committed to fouls suffered is similar to Kyle’s +10 but his 41 fouls in 19 matches is 17 more than Kyle has in 21 matches. A tough physical player who will likely be hated by RSL fans on Friday as I expect he will get a few more fouls committed trying to keep Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy in check.
League’s best offense vs. League’s best defense – RSL has scored 52 goals this year in 28 matches, that is more than they have in any previous season, the next best scoring team in MLS is Montreal with 45 goals scored. The Sounders have allowed just 27 goals so far this season, only Sporting KC has been as stingy, at home they have given up just 9 goals in 13 matches. RSL are actually the only team in MLS with a positive goal differential on the road, a +2 which comes from 25 goals scored and 23 goals allowed, overall RSL is one of a few teams in MLS with a double digit positive goal differential at +17. It is kinda funny as RSL has always been a team that has played defense first, and one who requires defensive work from every player on the pitch. The Sounders are the team that has Obafemi Martins, Eddie Johnson, and now Clint Dempsey as options at forward, but to be honest they have dealt with injuries and call ups which has greatly impacted their lineup options all season. So something will likely give on Friday night, will it be the RSL offense which has scored multiple goals in 6 of their last 7 matches, or the Sounders defense which has given up just 1 goal during their 4 match win streak? Should be fun to watch.
My Match Prediction– I am not sure if anyone at MLS or NBC expected this match to be this big when they scheduled at the start of the season, but I expect this could be one of the higher viewed matches of the year as two of the top teams, with some of the best players in the league go head to head for the top spot in both the Western Conference and the league. On paper it should be a tight match, but I am going to say that RSL coming off a two week rest is going to be the sharper team. RSL will pass the ball and the Sounders will chase, RSL will look to combine to create chances and the Sounders will look to counter or play long balls over the top. The Sounders have scored 5 goals in their last 4 matches, all wins but only one was against a playoff team, RSL has scored 13 goals in their last 4 matches only one team they faced wasn’t a current playoff bound team.
The Sounders get most of their goals from a handful of players, just 5 guys have multiple goals for them, RSL has 9 players with multiple goals. The Sounders finish strong on defense, they have allowed just 4 goals in the final 30 minutes of matches, they are average on offense with just 12 goals scored in the final 30 minutes. RSL finishes strong with offense, 24 goals scored after the 30th minute, but can give up late goals as well with 17 allowed in the final 3 minutes. Like so many MLS matches this one will likely come down to who can score first, Seattle is just 2-8-1 when giving up the first goal, but 12-0-2 when scoring first, RSL is 1-5-3 when giving up the first goal and 13-3-3 when scoring first. Logic says this match ends up a 1-1 draw, but having watched the Sounders grind out wins against teams they should have beaten easily, I think they are ripe for the picking. A half-hearted effort won’t be enough against RSL, I look for a 2-1 RSL win in what should be a very interesting match.
That’s How I See It