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Preview: Seattle Sounders vs Real Salt Lake

Revenge is on the menu.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

The Seattle Sounders got off to a fantastic start in the MLS season with their 4-0 win against the Colorado Rapids. Some of the goals may have been a little on the flukey side, but the lead-up to those goals was the kind of repeatable approach that should bode well for Seattle’s fortunes in 2023. Seattle’s best players were consistently dangerous, and João Paulo was back on the field doing all of the little things that, through the magic of alchemy, turn into chances, goals, and wins.

Now they host the other half of the Rocky Mountain Cup: Real Salt Lake. The Sounders have been historically pretty successful when inviting RSL into the cozy confines of Lumen Field, despite some recent struggles, but it’s never easy. Pablo Mastroeni’s side is a tough team to play at the best of times, and coming off of a road win against the Vancouver Whitecaps on opening day, his team will be brimming with confidence regardless of who is or isn’t available.

One key stat

11-4-2, +13 — The Sounders’ home record against RSL in MLS regular season play. Getting swept by RSL in the season series last year might have taken some shine off, but Seattle has been pretty successful when hosting Salt Lake.

What the Sounders will try to do

Brian Schmetzer and his boys will try to dictate the tempo throughout the game. Against the Rapids in the opening 10 minutes or so, the Sounders found themselves chasing the ball around before managing to settle in and really determine how and where the rest of the game would be played to great effect. Given the same window of opportunity, this RSL side is much more capable of a smash and grab.

If Schmetzer wants to avoid getting his chain snatched, Seattle will need a calmer start. This game may also offer a better opportunity to utilize the Sounders’ new possession approach than the Rapids game, as RSL are more likely to cede possession. The Sounders will find opportunities to go more direct, especially when Salt Lake do push players forward, but they’ll need to strike a balance between taking risks on line-breaking passes or dribbles and being reckless, as those are the moments that RSL thrive on.

What RSL will try to do

Under the guidance of Pablo Mastroeni, RSL have become almost synonymous with the sort of facetious phrase “xDawg.” Mastroeni isn’t a big advanced stats and analytics guy — his teams are designed to out-compete their opponents. They’re strong and fast, athletic by definition; they want to be hard to play through, turning their own half into a mud pit where opponents get stuck and then fully throwing themselves into transition opportunities when they arise.

Against Vancouver they largely sat back defensively, often with all 11 RSL players inside their own half, daring the Whitecaps to break them down. It didn’t really work. Well, it did, in that they won, but it’s hard to argue that it was a result of the system succeeding. Vancouver had little trouble finding their way into the box, taking 13 of their 18 shots from inside the area, including a very open header on a corner for the goal. When RSL did create real chances, though, they were lethal. With Damir Kreilach back and Jefferson Savarino on the field, there’s no safe time to turn off against this team.

Vibe check

The Sounders should be winning this. The second half of last season featured plenty of false dawns, single wins or a couple of results in a row that seemed like possible turning points that were inevitably followed by a frustrating loss. The 4-0 opening win feels great, and looks like a clear step in the right direction, but a win against RSL would help solidify those good feelings. Salt Lake did well to beat Vancouver last week, but watching that game back it’s hard not to think that if the Sounders were in the Whitecaps’ place the game would have been packed up and put away long before RSL got back into it. RSL’s tactical approach, particularly on the road, is almost exactly what Seattle’s new system of play is designed to overcome or overwhelm. I wouldn’t expect another 4-0 win, but with Raúl Ruidíaz likely back in the squad it’s not unreasonable to think he might come on in the second half and lock up the first multiple-goal margin of victory in this tie for either side since 2019.

How close to full strength is everyone?

  • Raúl Ruidíaz is still listed as questionable with a right hamstring sprain, but Brian Schmetzer has indicated that he is likely to be available and could feature against RSL. Obed Vargas was out for the Rapids game with a right quad strain, but he’s been upgraded and is no longer listed at all on the injury report. Both players could see the field this weekend, probably as substitutes.
  • RSL is a bit further from full strength. Forward Rubio Rubin rejoins the group after missing the Vancouver game due to a red card earned in the team’s final game of 2022, but starting midfielder Jasper Löffelsend will miss out after being suspended for two games for apparently spitting at a player curing last week’s game. Defender Zach Farnsworth and forward Axel Kei are both out with injuries, while midfielder Pablo Ruiz is unavailable while sorting out his green card and new defensive signing Brayan Vera has yet to join the team.

Projected lineups

Sounders (4-2-3-1): Frei; Nouhou, Ragen, Yeimar, A. Roldan; Rusnák, João Paulo; Morris, Lodeiro, Roldan; Héber

RSL (4-2-3-1): MacMath; Oviedo, Silva, Glad, Brody; Ojeda, Caldwell; Savarino, Kreilach, Chang; Rubin

What you need to know

Sounders record (1st place): 1-0-0, +4

RSL record (3rd place): 1-0-0, +1

Where: Lumen Field, Seattle, WA

Kickoff time: 7:30 PM PT

Commentators (Apple TV): Mark Rogondino and Heath Pearce (English); Adrian Garcia Marquez and Francisco Pinto (Spanish)

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