Sounders face Real Salt Lake in what could be a MLS playoff preview
Seattle and Salt Lake, the league’s top two teams at the moment, have met in the postseason the past two years, and could easily see each other again as both appear on their way to the playoffs again.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Real Salt Lake @ Sounders, 7 p.m., NBCSN
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TUKWILA – According to the schedule, Friday marks the year’s third and final meeting between Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake.
But that’s just the regular season, of course.
It is very possible the 7 p.m. game at CenturyLink Field, a nationally televised bout featuring the top two teams in MLS, could be a preview for yet another clash in the playoffs.
“I think there’s a pretty high chance,” said goalkeeper Michael Gspurning. “I would bet on it if I had to.”
Seattle and RSL have met in the Western Conference semifinals the past two years. They are also two of only three teams — two-time champion Los Angeles Galaxy being the other — that have qualified for each of the past four postseasons.
Both appear set to make it five years in a row.
Count coach Sigi Schmid as another who wouldn’t be surprised to see more big games in the Salt Lake rivalry: “At some point if we want to be in the playoffs and win it, we’re going to have to cross paths with them or the team that beats them.”
The playoff series are split, each team winning one, but RSL has had the better of matters in the regular season with a 5-2-4 record in the series, including two convincing wins this year.
Offense has been the Sounders’ issue against Salt Lake, having scored just twice against goalkeeper Nick Rimando in the past 659 minutes, dating to the 2011 conference semifinals.
Rimando, who played for Schmid in college, has shut out Seattle five times in the past seven games, employing every inch of his 5-foot-9 frame in making some acrobatic saves along the way.
“I love Nicky,” said Schmid. “I recruited Nick to UCLA, so I’ve known him for a long time. I just love his personality and what he brings. I think he gets up because it’s a big game, which is him.
“He’s a guy who a lot of people said, ‘Nah, he’s not going to do it in this league. He’s probably a little bit too short and he can’t do it.’ He’s won two MLS cups with two different teams and both of those cup wins he was instrumental. ... For me, he’s definitely one of the top goalkeepers in our league.”
Gspurning has admiration for his counterpart, as well, and it has led to some entertaining-yet-goal-deprived battles. The Sounders’ 6-foot-5 goalkeeper, for his part, didn’t allow a goal in his first 277 minutes against RSL, including a series shutout in the playoffs last year.
“I have a lot of respect for Nick as a person and also as a ’keeper, of course,” Gspurning said. “He’s doing well for so many years now. It’s always fun and it gives you some other percentage of effort — if you see the other guy is doing well, then you don’t want to fall behind.”
Same goes for two of the elite teams in MLS.
• Forward Eddie Johnson explained the rationale behind his controversial “Pay me!” goal celebration against Columbus two weeks ago and stressed that his heart is with the Sounders: “Sometimes as an athlete or as a human being you go through so much in your life, and no one is perfect. It wasn’t anything about me trying to come at the club, just sometimes different people have different upbringings. In my sake, I don’t come from a lot. ... My whole thing in playing this sport and being a father of two is being able to provide for all of them.
“When you work hard in life, sometimes you just want to be rewarded. But at the same time you have to be patient. I guess it was the first thing that came to my mind, but that’s behind me. ... I’m happy here in Seattle. I couldn’t be happier to be in a professional environment playing with great players and in a professional organization.”
• Brad Evans has been ruled out of Friday’s game with a calf strain. The hope is the midfielder will be ready Sept. 21 against the Galaxy.
• Friday marks the last day teams can make roster changes until after MLS Cup on Dec. 7. Before the deadline, the Sounders took midfielder Steve Zakuani off the disabled list. The midfielder is in the final stages of recovery from sports-hernia surgery and has missed the last 20 games.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @joshuamayers