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September 13, 2013 at 12:12 PM

Sounders FC vs. Real Salt Lake, preview and prediction

Real Salt Lake LogoSounders FC (14-8-4) vs. Real Salt Lake (14-8-6)
Friday, Sept. 13, 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
National TV: NBC Sports Network (John Strong, Kyle Martino)
Local radio: KIRO 97.3 FM (Ross Fletcher, Kasey Keller)
Spanish radio: La Gran D 99.3 FM
Referee: Allen Chapman

KEY RSL PLAYERS

GK Nick Rimando — He’s been nearly unbeatable in the rivalry. The Sounders have just two goals against him in the last 659 minutes dating to the 2011 playoffs. He also has five shutouts in the last seven meetings. Sigi Schmid, who coached Rimando at UCLA, said the ‘keeper is so well-liked that teammates work harder for him. Schmid and counterpart Michael Gspurning have sung his praises this week.

M Javier Morales — RSL’s 52 goals are quite a bit more than everyone else in the league (the next most is Montreal’s 45), and the playmaking Argentine has a lot to do with it. He has seven goals and 10 assists in what is on track to be his best season. He’s the type of player that fans leaguewide want in a creative, attack-minded presence in the middle of the field, and it looks like he’ll be around a while after signing a new deal in January.

M Ned Grabavoy — This 10-year MLS veteran never gets a lot of attention, but he’s quietly put together his best season in the league. He’s got five goals (four on the road) and five assists and leads the team with 26 games, 24 starts and 2,220 minutes. RSL’s diamond midfield has often taken control in games against Seattle, and he has been one of the reasons along with guys like Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson, Andy Williams and Luis Gil over the years.

KEY MATCHUPS

Chris Wingert vs. Mauro Rosales — I included Rosales in this section last week against Chicago’s Gonzalo Segares, and we saw the another example of the Sounder getting roughed up. Wingert, RSL’s longest-tenured field player dating to 2007, is another guy who has played Seattle’s playmaker quite physically over the years. Rosales has still assisted on the last two regular-season goals against Salt Lake.

Joao Plata vs. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado — The visitors will have a lot of production up front to make up for with star forward Alvaro Saborio (10 goals in 13 games) out with a calf strain. Who better than the 5-foot-2 Ecuadorian to step up? He had a goal and two assists in the team’s last game a 4-2 win against Portland and has eight assists on the season. I’m guessing the quicker Hurtado will draw the assignment among the CBs.

Surging Seattle vs. RSL series dominance — The Sounders have won four in a row in MLS, seven of eight, but two losses this season have come to Salt Lake. Their record against RSL in regular season games is 2-5-4 overall. It’s not like Seattle hasn’t had its moments in the rivalry, but by my count the team has had one significant victory in 10 games head-to-head since Sept. 2011.

PREDICTION

I wish we could see both teams at full strength, and maybe that will have to wait until the playoffs. Saborio is out for the visitors. Brad Evans is out for the hosts (not to mention Shalrie Joseph and Steve Zakuani).

There are also the returning national-team players to consider, for both sides, in Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Kyle Beckerman.

I would say these battles are always tight, but RSL has handled the previous two games pretty convincingly. I see the Sounders getting a second-half boost from some high-profile subs to get a point out of this one.

Sounders FC 1, Real Salt Lake 1

RSL — Luis Gil (Javier Morales) 38′
SEA — Eddie Johnson (Clint Dempsey) 84′

*     *     *

What do you think? How do you see this one playing out?

| More in Preview and prediction, Sounders FC

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