Major League Soccer’s top two clubs – depending on how you do the figuring – meet tonight at CenturyLink Field.
Real Salt Lake arrives with a 7-3-2 record, which is good for a league-high 23 points. Sounders FC answers with a 7-1-1 record, which is good for a league-best average of 2.44 points per game.
“If you can’t be ready for this game and get motivated, maybe you’re not alive,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “Our team will be ready. We’re going to be motivated for this game. It’s a chance for us to move into first place overall – if you had a single table. And especially with still games in hand, I think that’s a good place to be.”
The Sounders have added incentive because last season it was Real Salt Lake that knocked them out of the playoffs.
A rivalry also has developed because the clubs have not only been good, but even. In Seattle’s expansion season of 2009, the Sounders finished seven points ahead of Salt Lake; in 2010, RSL finished eight points ahead of Seattle; last season, the Sounders jumped 10 points ahead again, but Salt Lake got the last laugh with the playoff victory.
Head-to-head, they are 2-2-2 in regular-season meetings, and 1-1 in the playoffs. Seattle won the lone meeting in the U.S. Open Cup.
“They are always in the first place, second place,” Seattle forward Fredy Montero said. “We are always trying to make first place, too. I think it’s going to be a good game. They have very good players. But we are at home: We need to win this game.”
Schmid said Salt Lake’s run of consistent success has paralleled consistency in the key parts of their roster. He cited goalkeeper Nick Rimando, central defenders Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, midfielder Javier Morales, and forwards Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola. Ten players are in either their fifth or sixth season on the roster – the longest-tenured core in MLS history.
“Those guys have been together for a long time now,” Schmid said. “That nucleus, that core, that spine, is really good. Outside of that, they change it around a little bit; but at the end of the day, they’ve had a very consistent lineup.”
Salt Lake averages 1.92 points per game – fourth in MLS – but is at the top in total points after having played a league-high 12 games.
Seattle has played nine games, but is gaining fast. This will be the Sounders’ fifth match in 15 days – and they won the first four.
That heavy a schedule can take its toll on a roster. However, Schmid could have another option tonight with the expected return of midfielder Alvaro Fernandez.
But defender Patrick Ianni is doubtful with back soreness, and defender Zach Scott is out while serving the one-game suspension handed down by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for a dangerous tackle Wednesday at FC Dallas. Schmid said as of Friday even he hadn’t figured out his lineup.
However, he said his players might be able to find a final burst of energy in their hopes of adding 15 points in 15 days – especially with Salt Lake as the final test.
Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders, 7 p.m., Ch. 5, 97.3-FM
Preview capsule, B2 SOUNDERS GAMEDAY
REAL SALT LAKE (7-3-2; 23 POINTS) AT SOUNDERS FC (7-1-1; 22 POINTS)
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Ch. 5. RADIO: 97.3-FM
CLUB LEADERS: For Salt Lake: G 4, Alvaro Saborio; A 3, Javier Morales; S 27, Fabian Espindola; SOG 11 Espindola; GAA 1.09; Nick Rimando. For Seattle: G 4, David Estrada; A 2, Alex Caskey and Alvaro Fernandez; S 46, Fredy Montero; SOG 16, Montero; GAA 0.00; Bryan Meredith.
HEAD TO HEAD: The league series is even, 3-3-2, including the 2011 playoffs when Salt Lake eliminated the Sounders on a 3-2 aggregate score. The Sounders will visit RSL on July 4, and Real will return to Seattle on Oct. 17.
NOTES: Sounders FC is on a club-record five-game winning streak. Salt Lake is 2-1-2 over its last five. ... Both teams played Wednesday: The Sounders won at Dallas, 2-0; RSL beat New England, 2-1. ... Seattle enters the game with a 271-minute shutout streak. ... RSL midfielder Javier Morales (quadriceps) is listed as questionable, forward Cody Arnoux (adductor) as doubtful, and goalkeeper Nick Rimando (shoulder) as probable. ... Salt Lake leads the league in fouls committed and yellow cards received, and is second in fouls suffered. ... Sounders defender Zach Scott is unavailable after the MLS Disciplinary Committee issued a one-game suspension Friday for a dangerous tackle at Dallas. RSL’s Kyle Beckerman is one caution away from yellow-card suspension. ... The referee is Mark Geiger.
QUOTABLE: “You hope in your dreams that you might be able to achieve that. ... We still need to get the last three of those to make that. But certainly 12 points in four games is a great run – and if we could get 15 that would be phenomenal.” – Sounders coach Sigi Schmid on his team’s effort to complete a run of 15 points in 15 days.
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