It seems like such a long time ago. The last time these two teams met in Seattle, the Sounders were celebrating an opening game win over the Red Bull and Real Salt Lake was opening their season on the road. Now they play again Saturday night in Utah.
Now Seattle sits in second place in the west with 29 points while RSL is in sixth with 23. With just six points between them, this has the makings of a huge match for both teams. Seattle needs to keep pace with Houston, who is six points ahead of Seattle in the standings.
Seattle has been reeling a bit from the last three matches, two friendly matches against Chelsea and Barcelona and a league away match against bottom crawlers San Jose. Seattle was outscored 10-0 in those three matches. In fairness, Seattle looked the better team for large portions of the match against Chelsea but apart from a few moments against Barcelona, the Sounders were like watching a college football team play against an NFL team. Top level teams do not have their back line ball watching and allowing the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, to score two beautifully simple goals in rapid succession. Seriously, it was almost embarrassing.
Against San Jose, Seattle looked average, at best. Seattle started out reasonably well in the early minutes, headed sharply downhill after another own goal and then another, yes another, red card against a Sounder defender before hitting rock bottom in the second half. The last goal in the 4-0 drumming was a complete waste of time. The defense for Seattle, mentally at least, were back on the bus on their way to the airport. In fact, after winning four of their first six league matches, Sounders FC have just three wins in their last 13. However, Seattle has lost just twice in that span.
Real Salt Lake, on the other hand, is on a four game home winning streak. They are hot at home and dismal on the road where they were beaten last in Chicago 1-0 by the Fire. Overall, their record at home is 5-1-3 with 23 goals for them and 10 goals against. On the road, the record is 1-7-2 with a dismal five goals for and 14 against. Statistics can sometimes be misleading but in this case, it’s overwhelming that Real Salt Lake has a home team advantage greater than just about anyone in the MLS. Will it be enough to get them into the playoffs again this year? Possibly, RSL is only six points behind Seattle after all, but they are not going to get the rest of their matches in Utah.
On the plus side for Seattle, Brad Evans is back from international duties, Freddie Ljungberg seems to have gotten rid of the migraines that have plagued him this season, and Fredy Montero is still second in the Golden Boot competition. Despite losing in the friendly matches, coach Sigi Schmid was able to get a lot of players some real match experience against top flight players. That is going to pay some dividends now and in the future with the grind of the season upon us and the playoffs possibly looming.
So then, what to expect from the Sounders tomorrow night? It’s difficult to say exactly but if I were a betting man, and if betting were legal of course, I would be betting on Seattle bearing down hard on the field, cleaning up the mental mistakes like ball watching, and taking care of business. It will be close but I see a Seattle win here.