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March 30, 2013 at 11:55 AM

Sounders FC vs. Real Salt Lake, preview and prediction

Real Salt Lake LogoSounders FC (0-2-1) vs. Real Salt Lake (1-2-1)
Saturday, March 30, 6 p.m., Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
TV/radio: KONG 6/16, KIRO 97.3 FM (Ross Fletcher, Kasey Keller)
Spanish TV radio: THIS-TV (channel 4.2/114), La Gran D 99.3 FM
Referee: Mark Geiger

KEY RSL PLAYERS

GK Nick Rimando — Do you remember last year’s playoff series? The 14-year MLS veteran was phenomenal to shut out the Sounders in the first leg at CenturyLink Field and was only beaten in the second leg by a wonder-strike from Mario Martinez. You might also remember that the Sounders hadn’t scored in 469 minutes against Rimando before that goal. Continues to serve as depth in the U.S. men’s national team pool.

M Kyle Beckerman — Another U.S. men’s international, the dreadlocked one has been at the heart of RSL’s success for the past six years or so. A steadying force as a holding midfielder in the “diamond” formation, he can have an impact in all aspects of the game, whether it’s breaking up the opponent’s attack, starting his team’s own attack or even finishing from long range.

F Alvaro Saborio — Admittedly, he’s just coming back from extensive duty with the Costa Rican national team, and with some recent knee issues it’s very plausible he could start out on the bench in this one. But he’s proven to be extremely lethal with three goals in the head-to-head series. Oh yeah, he’s also got all three of RSL’s goals this season (on just four shots on goal, no less). Averaging 1.01 goals per 90 minutes.

KEY MATCHUPS

RSL center backs vs. Seattle forwards — This has been a fun matchup over the years, but there are some new characters are the forefront. Fredy Montero. Gone. Jamison Olave. Gone. Now guys like Obafemi Martins and Chris Schuler are added the mix, and the quality looks to be just as exciting. We’ll see if Martins and Eddie Johnson are each starting, and also how that chemistry looks early on.

Rimando vs. Michael Gspurning — Not a traditional matchup, for sure, but these guys have been the stars in several of the recent meetings. The numbers favor Rimando so far in 2013, with advantages in wins (1-0), shutouts (1-0), save percentage (86%-67%) — though stats don’t always tell the whole story. Both fan bases are convinced their goalkeeper is the best in the league, and we’ll see if one steps up in a big way.

One struggling team vs. another — Neither team has been particularly sharp of late. The Sounders, as we know, are 0-2-1. RSL in its last three games is also 0-2-1. Both teams made some significant changes to their cores in the offseason, and each has had to deal with injuries and international call-ups, which may have contributed to slow starts. Things should be closer to full strength at Rio Tinto, but will the hosts have a slight advantage with Seattle having to consider Tuesday’s CCL game in lineup choices?

PREDICTION

These games are always close at Rio Tinto. Only once in six meetings there has the game been decided by more than a goal (that infamous 3-0 playoff drubbing in 2011).

The Sounders have gone unbeaten on the road against RSL in the last three regular-season meetings, which is a feat no other MLS team has accomplished. And coach Sigi Schmid noted some of those “good memories” earlier in the week.

I think the venue shows why it is so feared tonight. Plus, Seattle is yet to play a complete game, which will most likely be needed to get out with a result.

Real Salt Lake 2, Sounders FC 1

RSL — Robbie Findley (Luis Gil) 34′
RSL — Joao Plata (Kyle Beckerman) 68′
SEA — Eddie Johnson (un) 82′

*     *     *

How do you see this one playing out?

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