The top two teams in Major League Soccer meet Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle leads MLS with 26 points in 13 games, while Salt Lake is two points behind and would pass Sounders FC with a win Saturday.
“These are the games that players look to play in,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “These are the games that you want to be involved in (during) the season. So it’s a big game. ... It’s a chance for us to retain our position at the top of the (standings), and that’s what we want to do.”
However, several of the players who helped position these Western Conference rivals atop the league standings will be absent.
Seattle goals leader Clint
Dempsey and right back DeAndre Yedlin are away with the U.S. national team. Salt Lake will be without goalkeeper Nick Rimando, midfielder Kyle Beckerman and forward Alvaro Saborio due to international duty. RSL forward Joao Plata traveled but is questionable because of a hamstring injury.
“They’re missing some key guys, we’re missing some key guys,” Seattle midfielder/defender Brad Evans said. “Them being away from home, it might spark a little feistiness, a little bit more gritty performance. But the team has played the same way for six years. They never change their style of play — whether it’s at home, away; who’s on the field — it’s always a 4-4-2 diamond. That’s what they do, that’s their MO. Credit to them. They find players that fit that system.”
Under first-year coach Jeff Cassar, RSL has split its first 12 games with six wins and six draws. That makes them the only undefeated team in MLS, and a win or draw against the Sounders would establish a league record for most games without a loss to open a season.
The Sounders admit there is incentive in that.
“Streaks obviously are meant to be broken,” Evans said. “When you’re on the other side of that streak, that’s how you look at it. ... It’s bound to end sometime. The back of our mind is we play to zero; we get some chances, we finish them, we play a good game and we get three points.”
These teams arrive not only with the most points in the league, but also with the most goals.
However, both clubs are missing their goals leaders: Dempsey, who has eight, and Saborio and Plata, who have six each.
Over the past two games, Seattle has started Kenny Cooper in place of Dempsey, while Salt Lake is expected to use Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval up top.
Meanwhile, Jeff Attinella has allowed just three goals over the four games he has started in place of Rimando.
“He’s come in and he’s made some big saves,” Schmid said. “Nobody is like Nick in terms of distribution with his feet in our league. But … he’s played well.”
After this, the Sounders face one more league match without their international players before MLS takes a three-week break during FIFA World Cup group play.
“It’s a matter of keeping that standard high,” Seattle defender Jalil Anibaba said. “We all know how MLS goes. Some teams start hot in the beginning and kind of burn out, and we definitely don’t want to be one of those teams. I think we have the depth and the wherewithal to continue this run throughout.”