Rivalries are built on varied foundations.. fierce on-field battles, the contemptuous familiarity of nearness, that one thing that one jerk did 8 years ago.. and the rivalry Seattle has with its Cascadia neighbors and especially Portland won't be surpassed in this century. But pound-for-pound no team has actually earned an on-the-field rivalry with Seattle more in its MLS era than Real Salt Lake.
They are two of a triumvirate of teams (along with LA) that have dominated the Western Conference in Seattle's 5 years in MLS. In consecutive years they knocked each other out of the playoffs. Seattle ended Salt Lake's MLS record home undefeated streak in 2012. Seattle ended Salt Lake's undefeated streak to start this season. The matches between the teams are intense and — especially recently — explosive. In the last two seasons, perhaps driven by that intensity, the home team has dominated the matchups. There haven't even been any ties.. five straight home wins.
That's good news for the Sounders, since this one's in Seattle. And there's more good news. Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey are both expected to start for the first time ever against Salt Lake.
|Nick Rimando||If you manage to navigate through the RSL defense, this guy is waiting for you like an end-game boss.|
|Kyle Beckerman||Midfield general uses positioning and deft passing to wipe out and create chances all game.|
|Alvaro Saborio||He's back. Probably not at 100%, but historically he's terrorized the Sounders.|
But I come bearing bad news as well. Alvaro Saborio is back after a long injury absence. He was one of the many players missing from the Laker squad in their 4-0 demolition in Seattle in May. He was missing from the 2-1 RSL win August in which Joao Plata ran roughshod over the Sounders defense. Now Plata and Saborio will combine to counter Seattle's first string forward pairing with their own.
Tactically, the biggest question is whether The Sounder Attack is going to work. And by The Sounder Attack I am referring to Dempsey and Oba's short passing attack up the center of the defense, because for better or worse that's the focus of Seattle's offense. And with Marco Pappa out on international duty that will be even more true.
Seattle's fortunes in recent games have largely come down to whether opposing teams are capable of competently packing the defensive center to deny Oba and Dempsey the short passes. San Jose was. And we scored one goal in two matches against one of the worst teams in the West, which was very frustrating for everyone. Then we faced Portland — which has a shambles for a central defense — and beat them comfortably. Then we beat free-falling Colorado by one goal at home and then beat Chivas, which barely registers as an accomplishment. Is that really evidence that everything is fixed? And if there's any team capable of implementing a deny-the-middle strategy it's Salt Lake, who can deploy the tremendously talented trio of Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, and Kyle Beckerman in front of the best goalkeeper in the league.
So I do not expect a multi-goal walkover like we saw earlier in the season with half of the RSL roster out. I expect a very difficult match, especially if the Sounders can't create any variety in their attack. With Pappa out, the most likely route for that variety is DeAndre Yedlin providing width. But he also (along with the Sounders' defensive midfield) has to be aware of the speedy Plata attacking the space behind him.
If Seattle can hold serve and earn the win, they're back in the driver's seat for the Supporters' Shield, thanks to the Galaxy's road draw against Montreal midweek. The Shield race will almost certainly come down to the season-ending series between LA and Seattle, but having enough of a point cushion to force the Galaxy to win both of those matches to win the Shield would dramatically increase Seattle's odds of winning their first league hardware.