Real Salt Lake (12-4-7, second in Western Conference)
Head coach: Jason Kries, fourth year
Last week: Beat New York 1-0
Last year: 11-12-7, snuck into playoffs with final seed and won MLS Cup
KEY SALT LAKE PLAYERS
F Alvaro Saborio — The Costa Rican was the first name out of Sigi Schmid’s mouth when breaking down RSL. Their leading scorer (8 goals) also has four assists as the targetman up front. Sounders FC defenders will need to get physical with him, but maybe avoid stepping on his feet.
M Kyle Beckerman — The captain is in the engine in the middle. He’s a ball winner and a playmaker. Provides aggressiveness and a little nastiness in midfield, but is also a good leader for visiting side. A steadying presence if you will.
G Nick Rimando — A great shot stopper. Not the most physically impressive goalkeeper at 5 feet, 10 inches, but has the athleticism to make up for it. An MLS mainstay, he might be having a career year this season and could be good for a game-changing save or two.
Salt Lake M Javier Morales v. Seattle M Osvaldo Alonso — Morales is one of the better attacking midfielders in the league. Boasts a team-high 17 shots on goal and has recorded some amazing goals from distance this season. Will have his hands full against Ozzie though.
Seattle F Nate Jaqua v. Salt Lake D Nat Borchers — With defensive stalwart Jamison Olave suspended, much of the responsibility in the middle will fall on Borchers. I expect Jaqua to make the start and have a big influence on the game as well in the Sounders’ attack.
Seattle M Steve Zakuani v. Salt Lake D Robbie Russell — Zakuani has been the Sounders’ best player in the last two games (New England away, USOC semifinal). He also scored a go-ahead goal against RSL in the first game between the two. He could be difference tonight.
This is a fun one, eh? National television. Defending MLS champs. Seattle well within a push to the playoffs. The intensity in this one is going to be extremely high, as is the quality of play.
Salt Lake is in incredible form. After a shaky first month of the season, they’ve been nearly unstoppable since. Seattle has also been quite good in the last couple months, which makes me think this will be a very even matchup. My prediction? Goals. I’m going out on a limb here…
Sounders FC 3, Real Salt Lake 3
RSL: Findley (Johnson) 23′
SEA: Jaqua (Zakuani) 34′
SEA: Parke (Alonso) 44′
RSL: Morales (un) 50′
RSL: Saborio (Russell) 59′
SEA: Nyassi (Montero) 83′