Real Salt Lake: Series with Seattle a clash of opposing tactics
Lehi • Adapt and conquer.
When Real Salt Lake meets the Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday, the first true test of tactics will reveal itself within the first 10 minutes.
Does RSL's creative midfielder Javier Morales have room to operate? Can Seattle adjust if its inventive playmaker Mauro Rosales is unable to play because of injury?
"Seattle's a really organized team," RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "[Sounders coach Sigi Schmid] has been around for a while, and he knows how to coach a winning team and knows how to go on the road to get results."
Then Rimando, who will face one of his toughest challenges Saturday at 8 p.m. in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference semifinals at Rio Tinto Stadium, repeated a phrase used often by RSL coach Jason Kreis:
"We're concentrating on ourselves," Rimando continued. "We want to go out there and get three points."
It's easy to see when RSL is playing its offensive game. It often begins in the back on defense, when an opponent's attack peters out.
RSL will begin to string pass after pass together, eventually getting the ball to Morales or Kyle Beckerman, who will look for Fabian Espindola or Alvaro Saborio streaking toward goal. It's a deliberate style, designed to exploit a lack of resolve to defend.
Even though the two teams split the season series, No. 2 seed Seattle (18-7-9) caused third-seeded RSL (15-11-8) trouble by stifling RSL's ability to progress through the midfield.
When that happens, the Sounders' counterattack begins, often from the flank.
"They do a pretty good job of overloading the flanks for numbers," RSL defender Nat Borchers said. "They whip good crosses in, but they're also good on set pieces."
Rosales' status from an MCL strain remains up in the air.
"Right now, I think it looks unlikely," Schmid said about his Argentine playmaker's status. "We'll have to take it day by day, but for Saturday's game it's very unlikely."
In any event, Seattle still has plenty of weapons, including scoring leader Fredy Montero. The Sounders have come into the playoffs on a roll, winning seven of nine MLS games.
Seattle has also advanced to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League while also winning the U.S. Open Cup.
However, Real Salt Lake, which has gone winless in its past six matches, also has been provided with a boost to its resolve. RSL is healthy again and will have Beckerman and Morales on the field together for the first time since early May.
"I don't what to say," Kreis said when asked about RSL's underdog status. "The proof will come in the matches. Seattle is a fantastic team. They've done so many things well this year, no doubt they deserve to be considered favorites. They've gotten the points to prove it."
In the same breath, Kreis offered what has to be considered a rallying cry.
"But along the way," he said, "Real Salt Lake has gotten points this season as well. And for all our trials and tribulations and referees' decisions and international call-ups and injuries, here we are, third place in the league. And you can believe me when I say this: We earned every single point."
Seattle Sounders at Real Salt Lake
P At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff • 8:05 p.m.
TV • Fox Soccer Channel
Radio • 99.1 FM, 1600 AM
Records • Seattle 18-7-9, RSL 15-11-8
All-time series • Tied 2-2-2
Last meeting • RSL, 2-1 (Sept. 10)
About the Sounders • After suffering a knee injury in the season finale at Chivas USA, mifielder Mauro Rosales is not likely to be available for the first leg. ... Since the middle of June, FC has not gone consecutive league games without a victory. ... In four games in the MLS Cup playoffs all-time, Seattle has scored one goal.
About RSL • Salt Lake has not won since Sept. 21, a 3-1 win against New York. ... Ned Grabavoy and Tony Beltran have returned to full training from various leg injuries and will be available. ... This will be the first time since May 7 that Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales have played together.
Wednesday • New York 2, FC Dallas 0
Thursday • Colorado 1, Columbus 0
Sporting K.C. vs. Colorado
Sunday • Sporting Kansas City at Colorado, 5 p.m.
Wednesday • Colorado at Sporting Kansas City, 7 p.m.
Houston vs. Philadelphia
Sunday • Houston at Philadelphia, 5 p.m.
Thursday • Philadelphia at Houston, 6:30 p.m.
Los Angeles vs. New York
Sunday • Los Angeles at New York, 1 p.m.
Thursday • New York at Los Angeles, 9 p.m.
Seattle vs. Real Salt Lake
Saturday • Seattle at RSL, 8 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel
Wednesday • Real Salt Lake at Seattle, 8 p.m., ESPN2
Conference championships • Sunday, Nov. 6, TBD
MLS Cup championship • Sunday, Nov. 20, at Carson, Calif., 7 p.m.