The Seattle Sounders and their record-setting fan base will need to be on hand this Wednesday, as the Cascadia Cup leaders take on a stiff challenge from their claret and cobalt visitors from the state of Utah, Real Salt Lake. The Sounders are coming off a massive 3-0 win against their bitter rivals to the south, Portland, and will be looking to make it two wins in a row.
However, Real will have something to say about that, as they currently are settled ahead of Seattle in the Western Conference table and riding the high off of a three game winning streak so far, beating the likes of Los Angeles and Portland along the way. Alvaro Saborío has been absolutely on fire for the team from Sandy, Utah, leading the team with 17 goals this season, scoring a sensational hat trick against Chivas USA three weeks ago.
What will be key for either team, though, is how they stack up against their opposition.
Fabian Espindola vs. Sounders Defense
Fabian Espindola of Real Salt Lake will need to be in top form to be able to get past a defense that hasn’t let in a goal in the past 240 minutes of league play. While Seattle has done an excellent job of keeping goals out, it isn’t without threat to the scoreline. On several attempts, both the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers sprung open the Sounders defense, utilizing gaps between the wing backs and the center backs, only to be finished with a poor shot or saved by the magical hands of Michael Gspurning. With the absence of Adam Johansson on international duty, Seattle will need to work even harder to keep the floodgates closed.
The main issue for the Utah-based team is the fact that their Costa Rican goal machine, Saborio, played for his national team side on Tuesday and the Real Salt Lake staff are undecided if he will start against Seattle or not. If this is the case, then Espindola will need to step up even more for his side, being in a fine vein of form as of late himself, as he has scored three goals in the last three matches for the Lakers.
Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero vs. Form
The leading men for the Sounders arsenal, Eddie Johnson and Freddie Montero, will need to be on their A-game if the home side want to walk away with the three points after 90 minutes. The two forwards have 27 of Seattle’s 48 goals for the season and will need to add to that tally to guarantee a win for the northwestern team.
Eddie Johnson will be especially dangerous for the green-clad side, as he had a crucial brace for the United States against Antigua and Barbuda this past week. So, he will be looking to continue that form, as he will be flying back for this match after the United States’ match against Guatemala. Match fitness could be an issue though for the towering US international and may only see limited play time for this match, coming off the bench for the Sounders.
Since this most likely will be the case, the goal haul will have to be mainly spearheaded by Colombian international, Fredy Montero, with some assistance from his midfield to potentially help carry Seattle to the win at home.
International Players vs. Fitness
As previously mentioned, this match comes on the tail end of a flurry of World Cup Qualifiers for nations around the world. This could seriously affect the play and result of this crucial pre-playoff game, given that no less than seven players between the two sides will have been traveling and playing over the past week and a half.
For Salt Lake, their midfield maestro, Kyle Beckerman, and their man between the sticks, Nick Rimando, will be fighting against fatigue and jet lag to be in top form for two matches within 24 hours of each other. Seattle won’t be left out of this potential stumbling block in fitness and form, as their leading goalscorer will be bumming a ride back with his United States brethren on the private jet of RSL co-owner, Dell Loy Hansen.
With these key matchups, this match has the makings to be quite a big one, as both teams will be jockeying for that crucial second place spot in the Western Conference standings, behind the San Jose Earthquakes. Both teams have already qualified for the playoffs, but where they finish the regular season is crucial, as home field advantage and how much they will need to travel for said playoffs will be determined by where they finish.
Will the Sounders take the three points and jump ahead of Real Salt Lake in the standings or will RSL manage to stave off the Sounders attacks and take the three points to expand their lead over their hosts?