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Wednesday night's NBC Sports Net (also on KONG in Seattle and Root Sports in rest of Washington) game sees Real Salt Lake come to CenturyLink Field to take on Seattle Sounders FC. With a game in hand the Sounders can catch Salt Lake in the standings and gain control of their Western Conference Playoff standings.
Both sides will be weakened due to international duty as this match was originally scheduled outside of the break. Real Salt Lake will be without Alvaro Saborio, Will Johnson, Luis Gil and maybe Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman. Adam Johansson and Mario Martinez will not play. Eddie Johnson could be in Seattle, but with limited playing options. Jason Kreis is likely to stick with his narrow diamond while the left-right balance of Sigi Schmid's side will shift. Salt Lake has an odd road record 4-0-0 +10 GD at the Home Depot Center and 2-7-3 with a -11 GD in other road matches.
Joining Sounder at Heart to for Three Questions this week is new RSLSoapBox headman Matt.
SaH: Salt Lake has had to count on its bench a more this year than recent years. Who has stepped up the most?
RSLSB: That's a difficult question to answer succinctly. Some of the argument has been that RSL has suffered unusually from members of the ostensibly starting XI being absent, and there's some truth to that. Plenty have stepped up, but they've rarely held the necessary consistency. At times, it's been Jonny Steele (two late goals to win six points points to that,) while Luis Gil has graduated from being a bit-part player to something more regularly involved. Additionally, Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe have both had their fine moments in defense and have provided only minimal drop-off from the Nat Borchers - Jamison Olave combination.
SaH: If Beckerman can't go how does that change RSL's shape and tactics?
RSLSB: When I spoke to RSL coach Jason Kreis on Saturday, he indicated that Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando were both very unlikely to play on Wednesday, as they'd not have quality preparation time. That said, Kreis has deviated from his narrow diamond 4-4-2 only once in the last few years, and even then, only slightly - as such, with a capable replacement in Yordany Alvarez, Kreis won't have to worry too much. The drop-off in quality is there, to be sure, but tactically, most everything remains the same. It's notable that one thing lost with Beckerman's absence is distribution on the edge of the box as he pushes forward; Alvarez isn't quite the same there, but he provides some good attacking play.
SaH: Outside of the Home Depot Center the team struggles mightily on the road. Is this due to width, sample size, something else?
RSLSB: It's a tough question. This year, RSL has lost twice at San Jose, and once each at Sporting KC, Columbus Crew, Colorado Rapids, Vancouver Whitecaps and Houston Dynamo. We've also grabbed a few road draws. To be honest, it's not something I've been overly worried about, our road form. What's worried me more is our home form - we've never been a great road team, but I wouldn't describe us as struggling mightily. In fact, you might remember a little win by Real Salt Lake at this Century Link Field place...
Projected: Reynish; Beltran, Olave, Borchers, Wingert; Alvarez, Gil, Steele, Morales; Espindola, Paulo
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RSLSB: Seattle Sounders have had trouble in recent weeks putting together a run of form approaching their early season success. What do they need to do to get back into that rhythm?
SaH: Three things should help that. First is that they are at home for a decent stretch. Even though Seattle is one of the rare road teams with a positive goal differential, a stretch of four total road matches to end September proved too difficult for them. Two, not playing San Jose. The Sounders are horrid against San Jose. In fact, if Seattle had performed their average against the Earthquakes they would be in second with 56 points. Seattle only has four losses to the non-Quakes. Third is health. Seattle's offense without Mauro Rosales is merely an average MLS side.
RSLSB: How much of a role does the absence of Adam Johansson play in Sigi Schmid's thinking ahead of Wednesday?
SaH: Sigi likes to flood the right side with crossers. Johansson, Rosales and Tiffert all sit in similar spaces and serve it into the box. Without Johansson they are likely to use Zach Scott at right back. He is a defensive specialist and doesn't provide the outlet for Rosales. Instead the fullback width will come from the left side as Leo Gonzalez is out and Marc Burch will start. There is a chance that Brad Evans slots into the right back which would mean a more normal shape from the Sounders, plus height in set-play work but less defense.
RSLSB: With RSL able to avoid the qualifying play-in with a win and Seattle nearly there, how big would a rematch of 2011's playoff battle be for Seattle fans?
SaH: To me RSL is a second rivalry group. There's Cascadia and then there is LAG/RSL. Those two teams are the ones over the life of the MLS Sounders that have prevented chances at the MLS Cup. Getting a chance to unseat one of those two in the first round. Facing Real Salt Lake would mean the opportunity for redemption. That loss at Rio Tinto was one of the worst four performances by Seattle in their history. It was not like the 6-1 blowout to Santos Laguna where a much better team just crushed Seattle, but instead was a set of failures tactically and mentally that dug such a large hole that they could not advance in the Playoffs. It's time for the Sounders to put that match to rest and beating RSL Wednesday would be a good start.
Lineup: Gspurning; Burch, Ianni, Parke, Scott; Alonso; Evans, Tiffert, Rosales; Montero, Ochoa
At RB Evans could start which would mean that Zakuani starts at LM. Estrada could edge out Ochoa, but I think Ochoa will be driven to prove that the 3-nil was an aberration.