In their last matchup with the Sounders, Real Salt Lake came to Seattle as the only undefeated team in the league and was promptly shredded in a 4-0 loss. But it would be a mistake to put too much stock in that result. The team that kicked off in CenturyLink in May was a hollow shell of its normal self, missing as it was Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Joao Plata, Chris Schuler, and Alvaro Saborio. Other than Saborio, who's still out with a long term injury, they should all be playing this weekend.
The biggest weakness for RSL in that game was probably reserve center back Aaron Maund, who was involved in all 4 goals allowed — he gave up the penalty and free kick for the first two, was abused by Obafemi Martins on the sideline for the third, and was caught marking space to free Kenny Cooper for the cross that led to the fourth. That performance in replacement of the very good Schuler produced a flattering scoreline and a fun highlight reel, but doesn't promise anything similar for the game this weekend. Instead we should expect the well-drilled, defensively sound Real Salt Lake that hasn't lost in five matches and hasn't surrendered more than one goal in eight (a span that goes back to the team denuded by World Cup absences).
|Kyle Beckerman||Fresh off a world-class showing at defensive midfielder in the World Cup, the veteran will make it hard to generate chances in Seattle's favorite area to attack.|
|Nick Rimando||A rare goalkeeper to make this list, Rimando is best in the league in turning expected goals into missed opportunities.|
|Joao Plata||With Saborio out, he's carrying RSL's offense on his speedy shoulders.|
Unfortunately for RSL, the Sounders offense improves from that game as well with the additions of Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin. Which is somewhat canceled out by the loss of Obafemi Martins to suspension. With the diamond's natural strength in the middle and Kyle Beckerman's stout central play in particular, the Sounders' recent tendency to drive the attack up the gut via Dempsey and Martins would likely to be frustrated. So the loss of Martins here may not be the worst. It will take dynamic wide play to create good chances, and that's most likely to come from Yedlin overlapping on the right and Lamar Neagle creating space for the attack from the flanks. And a Dempsey pairing with Kenny Cooper or Chad Barrett is more likely to stress the edges of RSL's defense than our typical overload of the central attack.
At the other end, the absence of Saborio has significantly hurt the Lakers' offense. Unable to consistently replace his production with Olmes Garcia, Devin Sandoval, or Robbie Findley, they're now almost totally reliant on the speedy Plata to finish chances. Saborio's loss hurts the team double, since he was not only their best forward in the run of play but their only consistent threat on set pieces. Plata is the least likely forward in the league to compete for an aerial ball. Last week against DC the team got two goals from center back Schuler, but in general they're much less of a threat on set pieces, especially if the hints that usual provider Javier Morales won't be available for the match.
If the Sounders can starve Morales (or whoever replaces him if he can't go — probably Luis Gil) of the ball via Osvaldo Alonso and can track Plata attacking the edges of the box via Yedlin and the center backs, they have a good chance of stifling the RSL offense and holding them to a goal or less. Then it's just a matter of finding enough magic to get through their disciplined defense and the imposing figure of Rimando between the posts to get a result and continue the momentum from the midweek Open Cup semifinal victory.