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October 29, 2011 at 10:52 AM

Sounders FC vs. Real Salt Lake, preview and prediction

Real Salt Lake Logo.jpgSounders FC (West No. 2) vs. Real Salt Lake (West No. 3)

Saturday, Oct. 29, 7 p.m., Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah

TV: FOX Soccer (JP Dellacamera, Brian Dunseth, Kyndra de St. Aubin)

Radio: KIRO 97.3 FM (Arlo White)

Referee: Mark Geiger

KEY RSL PLAYERS

M Kyle Beckerman — The captain was suspended for the last couple weeks of the regular season but returns for the playoffs. Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid calls him the emotional leader of the team. Defensive stalwart has earned his way into first-team action with the USMNT and is capable of a wonder goal.

M Javier Morales — An incredible playmaker, the Argentine has been back in the lineup the past few weeks after recovering from a devastating ankle injury. Maybe he isn’t at his best (only has an assist in his five games since returning), but as one of the most talented attacking players in the league, he’s always dangerous.

D Jamison Olave — Two-time MLS All-Star and reigning MLS Defender of the Year is about as intimidating as center backs get in this league. The big Colombian is listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. Has two goals and an assist this season, so look out for him on set pieces.

KEY MATCHUPS

Alvaro Saborio/Fabian Espindola vs. Jeff Parke/Jhon Kennedy Hurtado — Schmid mentioned this week that he thinks his center back duo compares with the best in MLS. This is the perfect chance to prove it. The RSL forwards aren’t exactly coming into the matchup on the hot streak either. Each only has one goal in the team’s last five games.

Alvaro Fernandez vs. Chris Wingert — I’m guessing Flaco ends up on the right tonight and Lamar Neagle plays on the left. The Uruguayan midfielder, who’s looking at a national-team call-up, could be the X-factor. A lot of focus will go to Fredy Montero in the attack, but Fernandez has had a great year that has gone somewhat under the radar.

Old Sounders vs. New Sounders — Players and coaches have repeatedly mentioned an improved mentality this season. The pain from last year’s early exit resulted in a new sense of motivation to do better this time, they say. I’m eager to see what that looks like on the field. Will it be noticeable?

PREDICTION

I don’t think any result (Seattle win, loss or tie) would be a surprise, but ultimately I expect things to be a little cagey and not as free-flowing as the viewing public might like. I also expect RSL to see more of the ball with Mauro Rosales, who’s very good at maintaining possession, having not made the trip.

Will altitude be a factor? Will the weather be a factor? This is such a great matchup I’m trying to find anything that could separate these two. I’m not sure anything gets settled in the first leg.

Sounders FC 1, Real Salt Lake 1

RSL: Espindola (Andy Williams) 39′

SEA: Hurtado (Neagle) 71′

* * *

What do you think? Would you be happy with a tie? My prediction has the lowest chance of happening according to the Castrol MLS Playoffs Predictor (added below).

playoff predictor.jpg

COMMENTS

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