Real Salt Lake will be hard-pressed to hold onto its playoff spot through next week without a win against Seattle on Saturday.
The defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders come to Utah riding a 13-match unbeaten streak and aspirations to move to the top of the Western Conference standings.
“The first half of the season aside — and look at our first half of the year — they’re a very dangerous team, a good attacking team, and I think a well-coached team and organized team,” RSL right back Tony Beltran said. “So they’re going to come in here and it’s going to be difficult.”
Seattle, like Real Salt Lake, struggled in the first half of the season. The Sounders claimed just two wins in their first 11 league matches.
They are no strangers to slow starts, however. Seattle dropped to ninth in the West last year before firing coach Sigi Schmid on July 26 and signing designated player Nicolás Lodeiro soon after. The Sounders rebounded in the second half of the season and won the MLS Cup.
The Sounders (11-7-11, 44 points) are within a point of the top of the conference despite Seattle’s early woes this season.
“They’re a very dangerous, very experienced team with a lot of talent throughout the whole lineup, from the goalkeeper up to the top,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “They’re patient in their buildup, they’re very interchangeable centrally in the midfield and they utilize the wings very well with defenders getting in the attack.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS AT REAL SALT LAKE
At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff • 7:30 p.m. Saturday
TV • KMYU
Radio • 100.7 FM
Records • Seattle 11-7-11, RSL 11-14-5
Last meeting • Seattle won 1-0 (May 20 at CenturyLink Field)
About Seattle • The Sounders enter the match on a 13-game unbeaten streak. … Seattle has tied each of its past four matches. … The Sounders’ U.S. national team standout Jordan Morris is out with a hamstring strain. … Brad Evans (lower back pain) and Calum Mallace (quad strain) are also sidelined for the match. … Chad Marshall (hamstring strain) is listed as questionable for the match.
About RSL • RSL is unbeaten in nine of its past 11 matches. … RSL is 7-4-4 at Rio Tinto this season. … After suffering a groin injury last week, forward Luis Silva is questionable for the match. … RSL's Jordan Allen, Omar Holness and Chad Barrett remain out (knee surgeries). ... Demar Phillips (hamstring) is questionable for the match.
RSL’s spot in the playoff race isn’t as stable as Seattle’s. RSL (11-14-5, 38 points) has gone undefeated in nine of its past 11 matches to climb into a tie for sixth place in the conference.
With its 2-1 win over Portland last weekend, RSL tied Houston and Dallas in points but owns the wins tiebreaker over both teams.
The two Houston teams, which both have two games in hand over RSL, both play matches Wednesday and Saturday next week.
“It plays into the equation, it does, because they have more opportunities to get points than us,” Beltran said about their games-to-go advantage. “And I think considering those guys’ run of form, I think we’re going to have to handle our business and hopefully some results go our way. And if so, we can get in. No matter what, if we keep winning, we’re putting pressure on these teams that do have games in hand.”
A win Saturday would put Real Salt Lake in a promising position in the tight Western Conference. A loss would be a significant blow to the team’s playoff hopes and make RSL more reliant on other teams’ failures in its quest for the postseason.