A couple years ago Real Salt Lake went on an amazing unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium, that streak was ended by Seattle, now RSL will be looking to set a new record for most matches without a loss to start a MLS season with a win or a draw at Seattle. The record would be nice but for me it is about a team that has overcome so much already this season proving that together they are capable of amazing things.
With a completely new coaching staff entering into the 2014 season, including a rookie head coach in Jeff Cassar, expectations were tempered and when you factor in a rather brutal schedule (or what looked like on when it was released) I can assure you that nobody was talking about setting a record for most matches without a loss to start the season. Then came the actual matches, the injuries, the call ups, more injuries, and some ugly matches, and here we sit heading into the 13th match of the season with a 6-0-6 record. There are so many places that one has to give credit, the breakout season that Joao Plata is having with 6 goals and 3 assists, the surprise off season signing of Luke Muholland who has added 3 goals and 2 assists while playing in every RSL match so far this season, the dominance of Jeff Attinella when filling in for Nick Rimando with a 0.75 GAA, 2 clean sheets and a MLS save of the week.
Of course we also have the things that don’t surprise us, Kyle Beckerman’s commanding presence at the back of the diamond, which over the last two years have seen him claw his way back into the USMNT and onto the World Cup roster. I am so very proud of the heart and passion that Kyle has brought to RSL over the years, nobody deserves a trip to the World Cup more than the most consistent player in MLS. We have another MVP type season coming from Javier Morales, with 4 goals and 5 assists he continues to put his stamp on RSL and MLS as one of the best creative players the league has had. The consistency of the RSL defenders, Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, along with some great work from Aaron Maund as well.
That just scratches the surface of things that have lead RSL to where they are, when you think about Seattle, you have to think Clint Dempsey (8 goals, 3 assists) and Obafemi Martins (5 goals, 6 assists) two guys who struggled to make an impact at the end of the 2013 season but who have lifted the Sounders to the top of the MLS table early in 2014. The Sounders have also gotten a real boost from some new players this season as Chad Marshall came over from the Crew and has looked like a younger and better version of himself in Rave Green while leading the Seattle backline, in the midfield Gonzalo Pineda and Marco Pappa have fit in nicely working with Osvaldo Alonso, and a mix of Lamar Neagle, Brad Evans and others. At 8-3-2 the Sounders have done something that most MLS teams can rarely pull off, they have given up the first goal in 6 of their matches and found a way to come back and claim wins in 4 of them, that is impressive.
So the shame about the Saturday afternoon matchup between these two sides is that while it is still a match of the top two teams in MLS at this point of the season and two the most successful teams over the past 4 seasons, it will be played without the biggest names and some of each sides best players. Gone will be Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin, all of whom are with the USMNT for the World Cup, Alvaro Saborio, Djimi Traore, and others are out with injuries, so the match will lose a bit of the potential shine, but I expect like all matches between these two sides that there will be little give on either side of the ball.
The Sounders have just one loss in their last 9 matches (6-1-2) and they have the most offensive team in MLS (yes I said it), what I mean is the have the most offensive output of any team in MLS with 25 goals scored in their 13 matches that is almost 2 goals per match, a pace that few can match but RSL is close with 23 goals in 12 matches. What has kept the Sounders from an even better record than what they have is some questions in goal and on defense where they have allowed 21 goals, compare that with RSL’s 13. Those numbers would lead me to believe we are very unlikely to see a 0-0 draw in this one.
Of course one of the marquee matchups every time RSL and Seattle face off is Javier Morales and Alonso, it is interesting that both are in the top 10 for fouls committed so far this season, Osvaldo has 24 to Javi’s 23 and both are also in the top 5 for fouls suffered with 29 for Javi and 32 for Alonso. It is also kinda funny that both players are one yellow card away from a one game suspension for yellow card accumulation, it is hard given their past history to imagine that one or both of them don’t see yellow in this match. Still one of the best creative players in MLS going up against one of the best defensive midfielder in MLS is always something to keep your eyes on, as you never know what might happen. Throw in Ricardo Salazar, our ref for this match, and oh boy the possibilities for chaos are endless. Perhaps the most interesting stat of this midfield matchup is that in regular season MLS action Javier Morales doesn’t have a goal or assist against Seattle, in 9 matches played, with so many injuries up top for RSL he may need to break that streak to keep RSL’s unbeaten streak alive.
A couple of guys for Seattle have proven to be real thorns in the sides of RSL in the past for other teams and will likely be called on to do so for the Rave Green on Saturday, Kenny Cooper has 6 goals and 1 assist against RSL in his previous 15 matches for various clubs, and Chad Barrett has 4 goals in his 14 appearances against RSL. Heck it is kinda funny that of the top 7 most productive Sounders against RSL, 4 of them are new to the team (Cooper, Barrett, Pappa, Marshall) it is almost like they have picked up players who have had some level of success against RSL in the past. Can either Barrett or Cooper prove to be a RSL killer for Seattle on Saturday? That is one of the things I will be watching closely.
Jeff Cassar is faced with some tough choices on Saturday, he is without Kyle, Nick, and Sabo but he knew that going in, but with all but one of our forwards (Olmes Garcia) nursing some type of injury could Jeff be faced with making a formation change as opposed to risking a player on the turf at Seattle and in a 7 day stretch where RSL will play 3 matches for the first time this year? Yikes! I think we might see a 4-5-1 or what might look like a 4-3-3 for RSL with a now fit Luis Gil needing to get back on the pitch but without losing a very good Luke Mulholland. I think a formation of:
could be very interesting you could play with 5 in the midfield or imagine what it might look like if you went:
Either of those formations would be very interesting and you could easily replace either as a starter or as a sub Robbie Findley for Olmes Garcia. I think it would catch Seattle off guard, and provide a very interesting look for RSL. Will it happen? I don’t know but I will be tuning in on Saturday at 2pm on WB30 to find out.
So if I had to pick a result for this one, I have to pick a 1-1 draw but this one really could go either way.
That’s How I See It