When Seattle Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake meet on Friday, it will be the second game between the clubs in 16 days. It will also be their fourth meeting of the season.
At this point, there should be no surprises; both teams know enough about each other tactically and with regard to personnel. The fact that their systems are similar will also help increase each team’s awareness of its opposite number.
Expect both clubs to line up in a 4-4-2 with a diamond in the midfield. Real Salt Lake will be a more compact diamond, while Seattle will pull wider — although not permanently, since Sigi Schmid’s recently preferred wide players are anything but out-and-out wingers.
Seattle Sounders FC: Michael Gspurning; Marc Burch, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Jeff Parke, Adam Johansson; Christian Tiffert, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Mauro Rosales; Fredy Montero, Sammy Ochoa.
Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, Tony Beltran; Will Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy; Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio.
Untimely injuries at the end of the season hit both teams, putting players’ fitness into question leading into a playoff rematch from last season. Sounders FC’s Eddie Johnson (adductor strain) will likely miss the first leg, but Real Salt Lake’s Jamison Olave (hamstring strain) and Javier Morales (flu) should be fit.
Of course, this is the time of year when injury reports and quotes from training must be taken with a grain of salt. Teams will look for any competitive advantage, including trying to make an opponent believe that a normal starter won’t be in, only to find their name on the team sheet before the game.
Argentinians in Action
Mauro Rosales and Javier Morales are their respective teams’ leading assist men, with Rosales assisting on 13 MLS goals for Seattle and Morales on nine for RSL.
Despite their difference in position, the role they play is similar. Rosales will cut in from the right to make incisive passes in the midfield, while Morales will drift to each side from his central starting point to do the same.
Both are restart specialists as well, and in a season series that has provided a grand total of one goal in three meetings, set pieces could be the deciding factor in this playoff.
Familiarity and Contempt…For Goals
Only Fabian Espindola has found the back of the net in games between Seattle and RSL this season. It’s been 220 minutes of play since that goal, which came in the 50th minute of RSL’s 1-0 win at CenturyLink Field in May.
The normally ruthless forward pairs of Espindola and Alvaro Saborio and Johnson and Fredy Montero have been hopelessly impotent in the defensive pressure cooker that has been this matchup.
Saborio, missing from the most recent league game between the two because of international duty, will be back for the playoffs. He acts as the finisher, complementing Espindola’s workhorse tendencies and Morales’ killer final passes.
Sammy Ochoa will fill in for Johnson in the first leg, looking to put up better playoff performances this year than last. He played 77 minutes in the 2011 playoffs but had nothing to show for them.
However, Ochoa has been more than capable as an option off the bench this season. In all competitions, he has eight goals in 901 minutes.
Whichever team scores first will receive a massive confidence boost. With Seattle starting the series at home, a two-goal deficit similar to last year’s result in the Emerald City would be difficult to overturn in the return leg.
This series feels due for some goals, especially with Salt Lake’s back line shifting around so much due to recent injury. Because of that, Seattle seems to hold an advantage heading into the series.
Ochoa has been productive this year when called upon. RSL’s core group of players has also seen better days, and although it will be motivated to give a gutsy final performance together, the team has been less than convincing all season long.
Seattle will win its first ever playoff series, at the expense of RSL. The first leg will finish 2-0, as it did last year, with the return leg in Utah ending 1-0 in Seattle’s favor.
Tune in to KUOW at 12.05pm on Friday for a Match Preview with Prost Amerika Editor, Steve Clare.