Real Salt Lake: RSL-Seattle lacks stars, but not significance
Seattle • Jurgen Klinsmann plucked away the "star power" from this one. But the U.S. men's national team coach didn't pluck away the significance.
Real Salt Lake's first visit to CenturyLink Field in 2014 here Saturday afternoon pits the No. 2 team in Major League Soccer against the current No. 1, Western Conference-leading Seattle Sounders.
Yet, there will be no Kyle Beckerman or Nick Rimando or Alvaro Saborio on the field for RSL. And no Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin for Seattle. They're all out of the equation.
Still, the rivals square off once again with three crucial points on the line ahead of the World Cup break (June 7-28). RSL (6-0-6) trails the Sounders (8-3-2) by two points in the West.
"Let's be honest," defender Tony Beltran said, "we're only 12 games in. A lot can happen between now and the end of the year, but these three points, whichever way they go, could ultimately decide Supporters' Shield down the line."
That's the approach RSL is taking. Sigi Schmid and his Seattle team are certain to do the same.
With Beckerman, Rimando, Dempsey and Yedlin with the USMNT prepping for the World Cup and Saborio out three to four months after suffering a foot fracture Thursday in Costa Rica, the result will depend on MLS stars who won't be going to Brazil.
RSL's midfield orchestrator Javier Morales and Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso will surely renew their often-chippy past with one another in downtown Seattle. Trying to unlock the Sounders midfield, Morales will undoubtedly run into Alonso.
"We love each other," Morales joked. "It's simple: I think he's one of the better midfielders in the league, and he's very competitive. And I'm the same."
Both RSL and Seattle are two of the more-affected MLS clubs by this summer's World Cup, along with Sporting Kansas City without Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. Though they will be playing without Dempsey who has eight goals in nine matches in 2014 the Sounders remain the highest-scoring team in MLS with 25 goals in 13 matches. Obafemi Martins has been a force with five goals and six assists and Lamar Neagle (four goals), Kenny Cooper (three goals) and Chad Barret (two goals) are all players RSL knows well.
"These are very dangerous players if you give them time and space," said RSL coach Jeff Cassar, "so we're going to come in there and hopefully not give them any time or space on the ball to create."
Right behind the Sounders in offensive efficiency is RSL. The club has scored 23 goals in 12 matches, despite being recently shutout at home 0-0 last Saturday against FC Dallas. Without Saborio, and likely Joao Plata still recovering from another left hamstring injury the forces behind 12 of those 23 goals won't be a factor in Saturday in Seattle.
Midfielder Ned Grabavoy isn't expecting anything unusual. RSL will likely be put to the test for stretches in which the Sounders throw waves of attack after attack at the visitors.
"How short can we make those moments?" Grabavoy said. "I think that has to do when we win the ball, especially in their defensive third or middle part of the field. Can we be clean and tidy with it?"
The 13th of 34 regular-season matches promises to be a test for undermanned RSL. Beltran said that shouldn't discount the possibilities down the line.
"We always have to, especially when we match up against an upper-echelon Western Conference opponent, take these games seriously and we have to go for points," he said. "It could matter at the end of the year."
RSL at Sounders
O At CenturyLink Field, Seattle
TV • CW30
Radio • 700 AM
Records • RSL 6-0-6; Seattle 8-3-2
Last meeting • Seattle 2, RSL 0 (Sept. 13, 2013)
About RSL • News broke Thursday that RSL forward Alvaro Saborio would miss the next 3-4 months with a fractured fifth metatarsal on his right foot. â¦ Forward Joao Plata (left hamstring) is expected to travel with the team, but is doubtful for the match against the Sounders, per coach Jeff Cassar. â¦ RSL is 2-3-4 all time at CenturyLink Field, most recently a 2-0 loss to the Sounders last September.
About Seattle • The highest-scoring side in MLS, the Sounders have 25 goals in 13 matches but will be without leading scorer Clint Dempsey (eight goals). â¦ Dempsey's last regular-season MLS start against RSL came on Sept. 3, 2005, when the New England Revolution beat RSL 1-0 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.