Seattle • With a victory all but certain, the crowd of 55,000 at CenturyLink Field began to mock the visitors with a question.
"Who’s in first place?" they chanted.
San Jose at Real Salt LakeSaturday, 7 p.m.
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For the first time in months, the answer was not Real Salt Lake.
It was a June 22 victory over the Seattle Sounders, of all teams, that pushed RSL to the top of the Major League Soccer standings, and Salt Lake had not relinquished its grip on the top spot — until Friday night, that is.
This time, in the third meeting of the season with the Seattle, RSL was out-shot (10-9), out-crossed (24-9) and, by coach Jason Kreis’ own admission, "out-competed" in a 2-0 defeat.
Seattle’s victory pushed the Sounders one point ahead of RSL in the standings, with two games still in hand on Real. It was a major blow to Salt Lake’s Supporters’ Shield hopes, but Kreis would not say Friday’s match was a "must-win" for his team.
"Of course we would have loved to get a result," he said, "But I don’t think it’s done and dusted. It’s far from over yet."
After a poor start to the season, Seattle moves to the top of the table as the league’s hottest team. The Sounders have won eight of their last nine league games.
"I was very pleased with our team’s effort," coach Sigi Schmid said after Friday’s win. "We kept on, kept on climbing and now we’re in first place and now we’ve got to make sure to stay there and enjoy the view a little bit."
That certainly won’t be easy with a brutal down the stretch. Seattle will play a surging L.A. Galaxy team twice, in addition to facing the New York Red Bulls and the upstart Colorado Rapids.
RSL, meanwhile, only faces one team currently in playoff position in its final five matches.
"It’s important how we react," Kreis said. "The truth of the matter is I felt we got out-competed and I felt like we had a lot of players who had poor games, poor games with the ball. It’s atypical. So I think we can brush it off. We need to get back to work this week, work extremely hard and get ourselves prepared for San Jose."
Salt Lake won’t have a chance to face Seattle again in the regular season. But the two teams seem to find each other in the playoffs, with RSL eliminating Seattle two years ago and the Sounders returning the favor in 2012. If their paths cross again, RSL defender Nat Borchers will remember the crowd and Schmid’s decision to bring U.S. internationals Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson off the bench with his team up 2-0.
"They were out there showboating a little bit," Borchers said. "We definitely won’t forget that when it comes to the playoffs and the next time we see them."
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