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June 22, 2013 at 8:14 AM

Sounders FC vs. Real Salt Lake, preview and prediction

Real Salt Lake LogoSounders FC (6-4-3) vs. Real Salt Lake (8-5-3)
Saturday, June 22, 6:30 p.m., Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
Local TV/radio: KONG 6/16, KIRO-FM 97.3 (Ross Fletcher, Kasey Keller)
Spanish TV/radio: THIS-TV (KOMO 4.2), La Gran D 99.3 FM
Referee: Armando Villareal

KEY RSL PLAYERS

F Olmes Garcia — These teams have played 16 times, and I’ve done nearly as many previews in this series, so let’s focus on a few new guys. This newcomer from Colombia has been an instant sensation with four goals in just 401 minutes — all as a substitute. The 20 year old had a pair of them against the Galaxy last game to win MLS Player of the Week. Didn’t play earlier this year against Seattle, but has size (6 foot, 175 pounds), speed and talent.

M Joao Plata — Another new guy to the group is familiar from his previous two seasons with Toronto FC, where he gave the Sounders issues a time or two. Was acquired in a preseason trade for a second-round pick and ranks second on the team with four assists, though he hasn’t had one in the past six games. He’ll be easy to spot as the smallest guy on the field (5 foot 2, 135 pounds), but that doesn’t mean he’ll be easy to defend.

D Nat Borchers — OK, this guy is a veteran who’s been around for a while, but I think he’ll be particularly important in this game. As we know, Jamison Olave was shipped off to New York in the offseason. Other center backs Chris Schuler (left foot pain) and Kwame Watson-Siriboe (right ACL tear) are out injured. So that means a lot of the responsibility will fall on his shoulders, particularly with an inexperienced teenager set to start beside him.

KEY MATCHUPS

Lamar Neagle vs. Carlos Salcedo — I’m expecting the Federal Way native to start up front with Obafemi Martins as Eddie Johnson is eased back in after national team duty. I’d also expect a lot of RSL’s defensive attention to be on Martins. Neagle has shown his ability to produce when called upon — he’s even scored a huge goal before at Rio Tinto — but we’ll see if the 19 year old will step up for the home team when needed.

Michael Gspurning vs. Nick Rimando — Hard not to focus on the goalkeepers in this matchup. Gspurning had perhaps his best game of the season at RSL earlier this year, making seven saves in defeat. Rimando, as many remember, was nearly unbeatable in the Western Conference semifinals last postseason. Equally impressive and two of the very best in the league, even if separated by eight inches of height.

Hot vs. hotter — There are a lot of similarities between these teams. Consistent success. Stability. Coming off perhaps their biggest changes this past offseason. Even more specifically, both have key young players away with the U.S. U-20 team (DeAndre Yedlin, Luis Gil). There is also recent success. The Sounders have been best in MLS since these previous matchup at 6-1-2. RSL has been second best at 6-2-1.

PREDICTION

I’m not going on this road trip (my wife and I are actually working on moving into a house by month’s end), but I’ve witnessed a lot of crazy things at Rio Tinto Stadium. Some of the most devastating, embarrassing defeats. Some of the biggest, history-making wins.

RSL leads the all-time series 4-2-4 in regular-season games and 2-1-2 at home, and my gut says that will continue. I feel the Sounders could keep Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans on the bench, and we also know Osvaldo Alonso won’t be available.

I’m not sure Seattle’s midfield will be able to put its stamp on the game and dictate.

Real Salt Lake 2, Sounders FC 1

RSL — Ned Grabavoy (Kyle Beckerman) 21′
SEA — Lamar Neagle (Mauro Rosales) 53′
RSL — Olmes Garcia (Javier Morales) 76′

*     *     *

How do you see this one playing out?

| More in Preview and prediction

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