Sounders FC (8-3-2) vs. Real Salt Lake (6-0-6)
Saturday, May 31, 1 p.m., CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
TV/radio: Q-13 FOX (local), ROOT Sports (regional) KIRO 97.3 FM
Spanish radio: ESPN Deportes 1490 AM
Referee: Ricardo Salazar
KEY RSL PLAYERS
M Javier Morales — Simply put, one of the best attacking midfielders in the league, arguably one of the best in MLS history. He had six goals and 15 assists in his first season with RSL back in 2008 and hasn’t slowed since when healthy, collecting 32 goals and 58 assists for his career (good for 122 points in 166 games) and four goals and five assists this year. He’ll be without the defensive point in the diamond midfield in Kyle Beckerman, along with two of his top options up front, but he’ll be the one to watch whenever the visitors have the ball.
D Nat Borchers — I’m not sure how the big guy’s beard is looking these days, but a burly one generally it suits his style of play. The 33 year old is dominant physically at 6 foot 2, 175 pounds (certainly he seems bigger than what he’s listed). Played somewhat second fiddle to Jamison Olave when they were center-back partners for a few seasons together, but now he’s the clear leader of the RSL back line. A steadying presence, if ever there was one. He’s also got nine goals since 2009.
GK Jeff Attinella — It’s not an easy job taking over for Nick Rimando, but the 25-year-old backup has made it look so this season. He’s unbeaten, of course, since the team through 12 games, but he’s got two shutouts and just three goals allowed in four games played. He had to earn the first clean sheet, making eight saves in a scoreless tie at Sporting Park, an MLS Cup rematch. It might have been good enough for Player of the Week were it not for a hat trick by a guy named Clint Dempsey down in Portland.
Marco Pappa vs. Tony Beltran — Personally, I feel Pappa’s play has been better than his production shows (no goals, one assist). But if he’s going to add to that total, it’ll be against a seven-year veteran who has established himself nicely in the league and even gotten onto the fringe of the U.S. national team. Beltran, of course, is most remembered around these parts for this ridiculous clearance from the 2011 playoff series.
Olmes Garcia vs. Chad Marshall — They used to call RSL’s forward “Gol-mes Garcia” after his torrid start to last season. The young Colombian scored in four of his first nine appearances, often off the bench. He has scored just once since but stands to be called upon for a larger role with so many injuries up front. We’ll also have to see if Seattle’s No. 1 center back is back at 100 percent coming off his crazy illness in Vancouver.
RSL’s unbeaten streak vs. Seattle’s home winning streak — One of these will end Saturday. One will continue. Salt Lake is looking to become the first team in MLS history to start a season unbeaten in its first 13 games. The visitors also come in on an eight-game road unbeaten streak in the regular season (the last loss coming at CenturyLink back in September). The Sounders are streaking, as well, having won four straight at home. Oh yeah, first place is on the line, too.
If the U.S. national call-ups are close to a wash (Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin for Seattle and then Beckerman and Rimando for Real Salt Lake), than the injuries greatly favor the Sounders.
RSL will also be without top forwards Alvaro Saborio (broken foot while with Costa Rica’s national team) and Joao Plata (hamstring strain).
Maybe that will turn the visitors’ approach a bit more conservative, but Salt Lake has played bit more open under first-year coach Jeff Cassar, so I’m not expecting one of the many scoreless ties we’ve seen in this matchup.
Seattle’s offense has proven good enough to score every game. I’m just not sure I have faith in Seattle’s defense to keep a shutout…
Sounders FC 1, Real Salt Lake 1
SEA — Obafemi Martins (Marco Pappa) 34′
RSL — Devon Sandoval (Ned Grabavoy) 67′
How do you see this one playing out?