Sounders FC (West No. 3) vs. Real Salt Lake (West No. 2)
Friday, Nov. 2, 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
Local TV/radio: KONG 6/16, KIRO 97.3 FM (Ross Fletcher, Kasey Keller)
Regional TV/National TV: ROOT Sports/NBC Sports Network
Spanish radio: La Gran D 99.3 FM
Referee: Hilario Grajeda
KEY RSL PLAYERS
M Kyle Beckerman — This central midfielder got my vote as an MLS Best XI candidate. And you know Sigi Schmid is a fan. He admitted on Salt Lake radio the other day that he tried to trade for Beckerman when he was coaching at Columbus (it sounded like he might have offered Eddie Gaven, but you can judge for yourself). The dreadlocked one had four goals and four assists on the year and has worked his way into the U.S. men’s national team rotation.
F Alvaro Saborio — Remember this back-heel goal in the playoffs last year? Impressive. He’s scored against the Sounders each year since joining the league, meaning he’s due for one. Had a remarkable 17 goals in MLS, good for third best in the league. Plays as a target forward in RSL’s 4-4-2 and the team’s attack just doesn’t look the same without him.
D Nat Borchers — The mainstay in a defense that shut the Sounders out in three games this season and for 299 minutes dating to last year’s playoffs. How good has the defense been? Well goalkeeper Nick Rimando has only made three saves in those shutouts — total. If Seattle’s play involves crosses from the wings, I expect the 6-foot-2 veteran will have a big game.
Javier Morales vs. Osvaldo Alonso — The playmaking midfielder versus the defensive midfielder. A classic matchup. These are two of the great talents in the league. RSL looks to Morales when transitioning from defense to offense, and those moments of transition are when Alonso shines. It’ll be entertaining to see whose influence stands out.
Mauro Rosales vs. Chris Wingert — Yes, I know I picked this one last time, but this time it’s Rosales’ playoff debut. The Sounders never quite could make up for his absence last year, not until the second half of the second leg down three goals that is. Intensity picks up in postseason and there’s a fair chance he’ll take a physical challenge or two, perhaps from RSL’s stout left back. The referee plays a part in this one, too.
Sigi Schmid vs. Jason Kreis — I’ve never singled out the coaches like this in all my predictions throughout the season, but I think it’s appropriate in this instance. Aside from injuries, both coaches should have a good grasp of the opponent. For Schmid, a key decision for him will be determining who starts for the injured Eddie Johnson. Fans, as you can see, are split in their opinions.
I won’t pick 0-0 again, even though I nailed it last time. In all honesty, another scoreless tie wouldn’t surprise me, but I don’t want to jinx it.
I do think it will be a defensive, deliberate game. Neither side will want to leave itself open or have the series lopsided after the first leg (like last year, of course). I think an EJ loss would be tough to overcome and, while the Sounders have quality depth, it won’t quite be the same lethal attack.
RSL is hard to figure with all the injury worries they have, as well. Kreis told MLSsoccer.com the other day that a number of guys are questionable going into Friday.
Here’s how I see it in the end…
Sounders FC 1, Real Salt Lake 1
SEA — Fredy Montero (Mauro Rosales) 63′
RSL — Alvaro Saborio (Fabian Espindola) 78′
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How do you see this one playing out?