Real Salt Lake sits above the red line and while their positioning there is based on tie breakers against teams with matches in hand, the reality is those teams Dallas and Houston have been struggling. On Saturday another huge Western Conference showdown will take place at Rio Tinto and RSL will need to do something that no team has been able to do in the last three months, beat Seattle. While RSL has lost just two of their last eleven matches, it has been thirteen matches since the Sounders were last handed a loss.
You expect the Sounders, winners of last year’s MLS Cup, to be a top team in the West. They spend the money, most often wisely, which gets them the big names that should carry a team to the playoffs and beyond. Still this league is anything but a sure thing and the Sounders sat in eighth place at the end of June with a 5-7-6 record, they will enter Saturday’s match at 11-7-11 and in front of RSL by six points with a match in hand.
So while RSL can claim the same numbers of wins as Seattle at 11-14-5, it is the seven loss gap that is why Saturday becomes another “must win” for RSL at home, a swing of six points could be the difference in getting some security in staying above that red line. RSL’s recent form has been a reflection of their season with huge swings of consistency in matches and from match to match. So while you will get a dynamic first 45 minutes like they had against the Timbers in the first half last weekend, you then get a second 45 where they very often look like a team desperately looking to hold on to a result, which they did.
So when you look at the Sounders’ roster you expect to see names like Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro at the top of the stats portion, what you don’t expect is to see Will Bruin with eight goals and two assists, or Cristian Roldan(don’t get me started) with six goals and three assists. The move to pick up Bruin may be the difference maker this year as the Sounders look to repeat as MLS Cup champions, it is the kind of move you actually are starting to expect from them.
Last week I switched from “Key Players” to frustrating players and I expect there isn’t a single Sounders fan that falls asleep without wondering what in the world has happened to Jordan Morris this season? Now out with a hamstring injury, his just three goals and one assist coming off his rookie of the year performance last year with twelve goals and four assists, fans have an excuse of him but clearly this is one of the bigger sophomore jinx seasons we have seen in recent MLS history. The Sounders have made up for that lack of goals with more defense this year, a plus seven goal differential is the second best in the West and with just 35 goals allowed this season only two teams in MLS can claim to have give up fewer.
For Real Salt Lake, it continues to be Yura, who with another injury to Luis Silva got more minutes for RSL and while he provided some key passes the reality is that a single shot in 32 minutes probably isn’t good enough. He probably should have had an assist as he placed two balls in great positions for RSL but others were unable to covert those chances, something that happens too often for RSL fans. I expect we will see Yura get the start against the Sounders and it is an interesting matchup for him against Roman Torres who when healthy lifts the Seattle defense to another level.
I circled this and the match against Sporting to close the season out as the two key matches, teams you know will be in the thick of it and teams that have posed problems for RSL in the past. On Saturday RSL will look to even the head to head with the Sounders who have beaten RSL nine times as opposed to eight wins for RSL, with four draws. If RSL is going to hand the Sounders their first loss in three months, it is simple they must find a way to score and likely will need to do it more than once. In two-thirds of their matches the Sounders give up a goal or less, in almost two-thirds of RSL’s matches they have scored less than two goals. If that doesn’t sound like a ugly one to one draw I am not sure what does.
RSL is 9-2-1 when they score first and Seattle is 9-1-5 when they score first, so as always that first goal will be critical but this match will be about the final 30 minutes and perhaps which side will have a sub step up to make a difference. In the final 30 minutes these teams have combined to score 45 goals, over half of their combined production comes in the most critical moments of matches, so who will find that little bit extra late in the match?
The Sounders have four matches after Saturday and three of them are at home, while RSL will have just one more home match to try to secure their playoff spot, you have to believe that should provide some additional motivation for the home side on Saturday. My heart says a two-one RSL victory, my head says a one-one draw, here is hoping my heart is right.
That’s How I See It!