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Recency bias is a funny thing. The memory most Sounders fans have of Real Salt Lake is of the playoff loss and, this year, not scoring a single goal against. But over the life of the two teams Seattle has a slight edge with a 4-4-3 +2 Goal Differential in all competitions. Beating Salt Lake on Wednesday will be a battle of even sides; one will need to grab the initiative.
Real Salt Lake is one of the most stable teams in sports -- not just in MLS, in sports. Ninety percent of roster minutes is stable year to year from 2009 to the present. They have the same coach. Their narrow diamond with a big forward/wandering forward is very stable. After Monday's practice Sigi Schmid said, "Everybody in the league is familiar with them. You look at them and compare them to the team that won it for them in 2009 and really without Williams and Robbie Russell the rest of the team is pretty much the same. They're a team that has been able to stay intact. Their nucleus, their top 10-11 have been there now four years together. There's a familiarity they have as a group, a familiarity that shows in their play as well. I think every team in the league has an awareness of what they're all about when their people are on the field."
It's a team which has given Seattle troubles and Seattle has given troubles. In fact only once in their 11 matches has the team scoring first not won. That was the 2010 draw at Rio Tinto when RSL scored in the 94th minute to tie the match two-two. The other two draws were both scoreless. Seizing the initiative is more important going against a team like Salt Lake. The Seattle Sounders know that Kreis' side can drop into a shell, particularly with an early goal.
"We know how they are going to play against us, especially against us," Sammy Ochoa spoke after practice. "They're a team that will stay in the back and wait for the counter. We've got to come out and do our job. We'll see what happens when we do our jobs."
That job is pretty simple. "We have to come out strong, like we did against Portland in those first 10-15 minutes," Ochoa noted. "We know how they're going to play. We have to go at them from minute one to 90. We can't slack off 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes because that's when teams take advantage of us."
Ochoa may or may not start with Eddie Johnson out on national team duty. But he knows about his last game against RSL and knows what it will take to get better results this time. It will take a game more like leg two or any of the other wins over Real Salt Lake.
"We've got to come out and play our best game, play the way we play and try to get the three points in this one."
Emphasis was not added. Ochoa made it simple: play Sounders soccer rather than ceding control to the other team.