Sounders v Real Salt Lake - Three Questions

Fight & Win - USA TODAY Sports

Friday night's match is huge - bigger than big even. First place is on the line when NBC Sports Network turns its attention to Seattle and RSL at 7 PM.

There may be no team that Seattle Sounders fans know as well as Real Salt Lake. Like Seattle RSL vies for recognition as the best "not LA" team over the last four+ years. For the first time the two clubs meet up with a chance that one ends the weekend in first place and the driver's seat for the Supporters' Shield.

Our guide through Three Questions is Matt from RSL Soapbox. The third question from us to him was volunteered via the Sounder at Heart Facebook page. That will be the common practice for the rest of the year.

SaH: The defense this year is still strong despite losing notable players over the past couple years. What's the key to RSL's defense?

RSLSB: "Strong" might not be the word I'd use for it. "Capable" seems to fit better, because we have, at times, leaked goals like a poorly constructed sieve. (Obviously not one so poorly constructed as to not let things through.) But I do think you're on to something: You'd expect us to be worse after losing Robbie Russell at the end of 2011 and Jamison Olave at the end of 2012. For me, they've been replaced internally, and that's been much to our benefit. Tony Beltran has stepped into the right back role capably, and I'll be damned if he doesn't look like a future national team regular. Chris Schuler and Carlos Salcedo have both been good centrally, although injuries to the former hurt us for a bit of time there. The additions of Brandon McDonald and Kwame Watson-Siriboe have bolstered our depth (although, again, the latter is injured) and that's helped too. We're not there yet, but I'm inclined to think that next year will be a great defensive year for us.

SaH: Without Saborio for the Friday night match (that's still unlikely right?) Salt Lake still has plenty of offense. Who steps in and what's different about them?

RSLSB: Yeah, I'm not 100 percent on Saborio's status, but unlikely is a good word for it at this point. We do have plenty of offense, but knowing who starts then is a big question. Joao Plata offers trickery and footwork, as well as a good eye for the assist; Robbie Findley offers top speed and some heading ability; Devon Sandoval offers hold-up play and strength; and Olmes Garcia offers interminable magic. Partnerships then become the question, and that's one that I could discuss for hours on end.

If you're interested in more of my thoughts on the matter, the first question in this week's mailbag post addresses it.

SaH: Loyal reader Clarissa Helton wants to know if Beckerman's the type to play on short rest after his time with the USA and how his play would change if he does.

RSLSB: First, Kyle Beckerman is absolutely the type to play in a short turnaround, and we've seen him do it before. He's played in plenty of three-day turnarounds, and given Beckerman plays a relatively subdued role for the national team, I suspect he'll do it again. Maybe this means he'll sit back a little more, so as to conserve his energy, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him making those long, bursting runs he sometimes goes on.

Significant Absences: Alvaro Saborio (potentially)

Projected Lineup: Rimando; Beltran, Salcedo, Borchers, Wingert; Beckerman, Gil, Grabavoy, Morales; Plata, Findley

* * *

reverse

RSLSB: Hey, hey, wait. How'd you guys end up near the top of the table? I don't remember you being there a month ago - what's changed to give your side so much success? Or perhaps is it that few things have changed?

SaH: Those that look at points per match or winning percentage wouldn't be surprised by Seattle's charge up the points standings. The fact is that they've been in contention for the Supporters' Shield for a couple months. Yes, the club has taken a ton of points and now sits in a strong position. The last 10 matches see Sounders FC at 7-2-1. The 10 before that? 6-3-1. They've been a good-ish team with significant injury and call-up issues for the past 20 games. That success is founded in a strong defense and an attack that is both scoring more than it should and not yet full strength.

RSLSB: How has Clint Dempsey slotted into your setup? Is he likely to play? Has his arrival kicked Eddie Johnson into high gear as he hopes to get a new contract? Does Obafemi Martins still want to play for you after coming over from Spain? Inquiring minds and all that.

SaH: A seven parter (I just made that up)

Dempsey is likely to be in the center of the midfield in a space similar to a CAM, but he'll be expected to score from there. At least I think so, he's never actually played there for Seattle because of the injuries and what-not Clint has only been used as a forward. He could probably see significant playing time, but from the bench as he's getting back to Seattle Thursday.

Eddie thinks he deserves a DP contract. He'll tell you after he scores goals and on Twitter. While the extra monetary motivation started after the huge contracts for Donovan and Dempsey, his scoring prowess is what it's been. His last two seasons in MLS have 14 and 15 goals. In 2013 he should end with about 12. Those are great numbers and he deserves more money in this league. The only disputes are how much and how should he go about getting it.

Oba's been great here. Despite frequent injuries he has 7 goals scoring basically every 51 159 minutes. He glows when he's on the pitch and has loved Seattle off of it. He may not be Keane, but his fit here is nearly perfect.

RSLSB: This is perhaps as big a match as we've played against each other. What's the key for your side? How do you think Sigi and co are planning to stop RSL?

SaH: If Seattle scores they'll win. The only questions are about the offense, who will play and how they will convert. The defense does not allow shots and is still backed by one of the league's better keepers. That combination provides some safety. With both EJ and Clint a bit limited the offense will again have to be powered by two 7 goal scorers and Mauro Rosales. The club's recent surge at scoring on set-plays should help as well.

Significant absences: Evans out with a calf injury. Zakuani still recovering from a hernia/groin surgery. Johnson is doubtful from the head/nick thing in the USA's win.

Projected lineup: Gspurning; Gonzalez, Traore, Scott, Yedlin; Burch, Alonso, Carrasco, Rosales; Neagle, Martins

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