Give Sounders FC advantage entering Game 1
Breaking down Real Salt Lake, Seattle entering MLS Western Conference semifinal.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sounders @ Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m., FSC
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Sounders FC (18-7-9) earned the second-best record in MLS this season and Real Salt Lake (15-11-8) finished with the third, setting up a high-profile Western Conference semifinal. The home-and-home, aggregate-goals matchup kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Earlier this week, RSL coach Jason Kreis told The Deseret News, "There's no doubt (the Sounders) deserve to be considered favorite in this series."
Here's a closer look at how the teams compare:
Sounders FC's Fredy Montero (12 goals, nine assists) easily had the best season of any forward on either team, but he's had several partners throughout the year and none of them has more than three goals. RSL, on the other hand, has two dangerous, double-digit scorers up front in Alvaro Saborio (11 goals) and Fabian Espindola (10) to carry the load. Advantage: Salt Lake.
Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso and RSL's Kyle Beckerman are the two best holding midfielders in the league, so that's a push. The Sounders could be without MVP candidate Mauro Rosales (MCL injury), but has an able replacement in Lamar Neagle and other options. RSL stalwart Javier Morales is back from a devastating ankle injury, though he's working back to his all-star form. Seattle DP Alvaro Fernandez, whose nine goals rank near the top in MLS for midfielders, tips the balance. Advantage: Seattle.
The teams were almost even in terms of goals allowed — Seattle at 37, RSL at 36. The Sounders have just one MLS shutout in its last eight games, with leaking soft goals a recent issue. Led by stalwart center backs Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, Salt Lake has allowed one goal in the past two games, but 12 in the four before that. Even.
Sounders FC's Kasey Keller and RSL's Nick Rimando have been among the best in the league for the last three seasons, and each has a 1.09 goals-against average. Rimando is tied for the league lead with 13 shutouts, but Keller has the edge in wins (18 to 14), saves (110 to 95), save percentage (75.9 to 70.9) and might be playing the best soccer of his Sounders career. Advantage: Seattle.
Seattle will likely have to dip into its depth due to Rosales' injury, but Neagle (five goals) and Erik Friberg (26 games) have seen time this season. Depending on who starts, the Sounders will also have firepower off the bench in forwards Sammy Ochoa and Mike Fucito. An attacking trio of Arturo Alvarez, Luis Gil and Paulo Jr. lead RSL's reserves. Advantage: Seattle.
The Sounders are entering the playoffs with great momentum and team spirit (seven comeback wins are a league high), though the Rosales injury looms large. RSL is limping into the series on a six-game winless streak, but has proved that is has the mettle of a champion. Salt Lake won the MLS Cup in 2009 and came within a goal of winning the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League earlier this year. Even.
Kreis has had a phenomenal run at RSL and few would be surprised if he ended up coaching the U.S. national team someday. His Seattle counterpart, however, might be the MLS Coach of the Year. Sigi Schmid has managed his squad masterfully through injuries, travel and the demands of three different competitions. Advantage: Seattle.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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