Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders FC are tied together in several ways. RSL won their only trophy here. They edged out Hanauer in his first attempt at MLS expansion. Seattle though has earned more points in the regular season from 2009 to the present than Salt Lake. The two clubs currently sit behind the LA Galaxy (296) with Seattle having 292 points and Real at 286 points in the five plus seasons.
Both teams are consistently considered title contenders. On Saturday there will be the opportunity for Sigi Schmid and the Rave Green to put distance between themselves and the number two team in the West. Salt Lake is the only team with a road goal differential greater than one. Both teams are short personnel for the World Cup.
Those are the basics. Let's get Three Questions answered by Randal from RSLSoapbox so you can be most prepared for the game.
SaH: No losses. Several close games, but not a single loss. Is this a sign of good fortune or is the team simply this awesome?
RSLSB: A bit of both. I think a streak like this in soccer typically involves a bit of luck. For example, RSL very well could have lost a couple of games had the other teams finished their chances or not made silly mistakes. None of the RSL players or staff have put too much stock in this undefeated streak. That said, RSL has been consistently good for about five years now. They have established a style and have the players that fit well into the RSL system so even when players are injured or called up for national duty, they can plug and play. The streak will end at some point and my guess is that it will be while Beckerman, Rimando, and Saborio are out.
SaH: The lack of Rimando and Beckerman in the spine looks like a defensive weakness. How good are their replacements?
RSLSB: It is impossible to replace Rimando and Beckerman in MLS. They are very talented and have gifts that others just do not possess. It could be argued that RSL is a very deep team if not the deepest team in the league and Jeff Attinella in goal has shown that he is more than capable of stepping in and making big saves. Cole Grossman is Beckerman's backup and he is a good defender but is not capable of what Beckerman can do in distributing the ball and creating for his teammates. The key to RSL's defense, in my opinion, is actually Chris Schuler. Over the course of the last 20 some odd games when Schuler has played, RSL has only lost once.
SaH: RSL's forward situation sounds a bit iffy for this weekend. How will they get goals?
RSLSB: Saborio is away and Plata is unlikely to be available for this game due to a recurring hamstring issue. Those two have been RSL's best forwards this season without a doubt, so losing them hurts. On the other hand, Findley is no slouch. He is one of the all-time high-scorers for RSL and keeps defenses honest with his speed. Olmes Garcia has not scored since last July, so he needs to find the back of the net somehow but I do not expect it against Seattle. Sandoval proved to be a good target forward in 2013 but is also finding his form after a surgery. So where will the goals come from? Probably the midfielders. RSL's system allows for anyone to score if they are in the right spots. Historically, a variety of players score for RSL across the course of a season so it really could be anyone that feels like meeting their one-goal-per-season quota.
Significant Absences: Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, and probably Joao Plata
Projected Lineup: Jeff Attinella, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert, Cole Grossman, Ned Grabavoy, Luke Muholland, Javier Morales, Olmes Garcia, Devon Sandoval
RSLSB: It seems as though Seattle is doing just fine without Clint Dempsey. Is it just Obafemi Martins that is picking up the slack?
SaH: It's mainly Oba, but not only Oba. This roster has a lot of players on it that have histories as strong goalscorers - Oba, Cooper, Neagle, Barrett, Pappa. The larger issue with losing Dempsey for a couple months is that Seattle loses on of its most creative players. Sigi has to lean harder on Pappa to get the ball into dangerous spaces and the ability of Martins to create something out of nothing. Both are capable, but the offense lost an MVP caliber player. It is probably slightly above average now, but that's down from incredibly awesome.
RSLSB: How are the Sounders doing without Deandre Yedlin and were the fans surprised that he made the final 23 for the U.S. Men's National Team going to the World Cup?
SaH: People are surprised and excited. His rise from high school star to Akron star to U23 star to HGP signing to MLS All Star to First cap to now going to the World Cup is as fast as this league has ever seen. In ways it is like Freddy Adu without the hype. He has the physique to compete at the highest level, with speed to spare. His dribbling and crossing are more than adequate. His on-man defense continues to improve. The biggest question that fans have is about his choices of when to get forward. Oddly enough the coaches are much less concerned with that. They want him there. They also want the RCB and CMs to shift to the right a bit. One only need look at what his energy did for his final 27 minutes of play against Azerbaijan (that first minute had two poor passes) for what he can do.
There is no like-for-like replacement for Yedlin. Brad Evans is probably closest on this roster. The other main option is Jalil Anibaba (the long time starter for the Fire who is a reservist here). Right sided attacks lose pace with both.
RSLSB: Late last year it looked like Sigi Schmid's job may have been in jeopardy. How is his job stability now?
SaH: It couldn't be better. The club plays an uptempo style that scores a ton of goals and is capable of making historic comebacks. The defense is weak statistically, but gobs of goals against are up for Goal of the Week. Sounders FC is 10 points clear of 6th in the West. There are 11 teams in MLS with half or fewer wins than Seattle.
Sure, the club could burn out of the MLS Cup Playoffs, but the process is clearly working. I wouldn't be stunned if there is an extension during the season.
Significant Absences: Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin. Chad Marshall's return from illness is unknown at this time.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Gonzalez, Scott, Marshall, Evans; Neagle, Pineda, Alonso, Pappa; Cooper, Martins