Real Salt Lake is desperate to remove the stigma of 2015 that crept into their season opener on Sunday, with a red card and then late goals given up to turn a win into a draw. Meanwhile the Sounders are simply looking to take “the step” to MLS Cup, in their 7th season in the league you have to believe that few teams are under more pressure to not only make the playoffs but hoist MLS Cup as the Sounders are. So while it is just week two in a very long season, both sides will be looking to get a win on Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium.
One huge story for Saturday could be who doesn’t play, for RSL a rib injury to Javier Morales kept him out of training on Thursday and he is unlikely for Saturday, and RSL will be without Demar Phillips who will be serving his red card suspension. Seattle comes in without Brad Evans who picked up an injury on Sunday, but both Erik Friberg and Tyronne Mears returned to practice for the Sounders and will likely play a role on Saturday. The Sounders will be without Oniel Fisher who will be serving his red card suspension. The loss of two starting defenders could be a huge factor in the match on Saturday if RSL can find a way to take advantage of it.
RSL holds a slight lead in the head to head matches with 7 wins to Seattle’s 6 and 4 draws when the two sides meet. Last year RSL won 2-0 at home and lost 1-3 in Seattle.
So I expect the RSL lineup will see two changes from last weekend, one forced by Phillip’s suspension and the other by the injury to Javier Morales:
Beltran – Olave – Maund – Wingert
Beckerman – Sunny – Allen
Burrito – Yura – Joao
Based on how things were going at practice that seems like the likely lineup to me, but I do have to say you could also see Burrito move back to control a bit more of the ball and then maybe a Mulholland addition in place of Allen.
Clearly the focus at home has to be to keep the pressure on the Sounders and to play until the final whistle. As I think back to the Tigres match at Rio Tinto the pressure RSL put on their keepers and defenders was huge, and with Frei having two backups on his backline that type of pressure may force bad passes or mistakes. RSL has found success against Stefan Frei in the past with a 1.67 GAA average. While doing this RSL has to watch out for the pace of Jordan Morris and the skill of Valdez and Dempsey, don’t be fooled by their inability to score last weekend against SKC these three all are dangerous.
All of this play into my keys for the match:
- NO MENTAL BREAKDOWNS – It is hard enough to get wins in MLS without having meltdowns at the end of matches, historically Seattle has scored 8 of their 21 goals against RSL in the final 30 minutes of matches and 4 in the first 15. So start sharp and stay sharp until the final whistle.
- Push hard at home – If we want to make Rio Tinto a fortress again, we have to push our style of play, we have to force opponents to expand as much effort as possible and then use our fitness and familiarity with playing at elevation to our advantage.
- Finish chances – Even with the two goals in Orlando, RSL had far more opportunities to score and they must find a way to finish those chances and put goals on the scoreboard. It is likely going to take more than 1 to beat Seattle.
Player to Watch: Jordan Allen – the announcement before the season started that Jordan would be the player backing up Javi and applying his skills to that creative midfield role was big, now we know why. It may be earlier than most of us expected but it looks as if that move will be put to the test early in the season. They are different players but keep an eye on Jordan Saturday, he is a special player who is fun to watch and how he will respond to the pressure will be a big test for him.
Both sides have a lot on the line this year, and every point against other teams in the West has to be fought for and won, last year 4 points was the difference between being in the playoffs or not, but just 2 points separated 2nd from 6th.
Having watched 3 matches for each of these two sides I think RSL will have the edge at home on Saturday, it is a slight edge and without Javi it is even a thinner advantage. I am not sure we can keep the Sounders from scoring, but I do think Plata, Burrito and Yura will be able to take advantage of a weakened Sounders side. I am going with a 3-1 RSL win.
That’s How I See It!