Well on Saturday night the Seattle Sounders will be coming to Rio Tinto Stadium it will be their 14th match of the season for them and so far they have a 4-4-5 record with 14 goals scored and 12 goals allowed, they lost a tough match at home against FC Dallas on Wednesday and will be looking to get a road result.
For Real Salt Lake they are still trying to get over their Champions League final loss and the loss of Javier Morales, yet their 5-1-2 record still has them securing more points per match than any other team in MLS. Yet after scoring just 2 goals in their last 5 matches 2-1-2, there are some serious questions about their offense, and those questions got louder when Alvaro Saborio and Arturo Alvarez left to join their national teams for Gold Cup duty and it was announced that Paulo Jr. would be on the shelf for at least a month with an injury.
So when these two teams clash on Saturday night both have a lot to prove to themselves, their fans, and the soccer world in general. So after the jump check out my key match ups, my wildcards, and how I think the match will go:
Sounders Offense vs. RSL Defense -
I find it kind of funny that some people in the NorthWest are in panic mode about their offense, the Sounders have 14 goals scored and only 3 teams in MLS have scored more. In fact the Sounders have only been held scoreless 3 times all year, their first two matches of the year and on Wednesday against FC Dallas. Yet after their 0-1 loss on Wednesday, head coach Sigi Schmid publicly called out Fredy Montero saying:
"He needs to score. End of story," said Schmid, whose team is 4-4-5 after earning just four points in a disappointing three-game homestand. "He needs to score. That's what he's paid to do. He needs to score. He's a good enough player. He knows that."
If that does light a fire under the young striker nothing will. The Sounders have had to deal with a number of injuries to their offensive players, beyond the well known injuries to Steve Zakuani and O'Brian White a number of their players have missed action due to injuries but there is good news as Brad Evans (4 goals, 1 assist) and Alvaro Fernandez (3 goals) are both expected back into the 18 this weekend. Then of course there is Nate Jaqua, while he has only 3 starts and under 400 minutes so far this year, he has always been a RSL killer.
Then there is the RSL defense, you know the unchanged group who last year had 2 of the 3 finalists for defender of the year, including the winner Jamison Olave. That group set a MLS all time low by allowing just 20 goals all season, a record they are on pace to shatter in 2011. 8 matches down, and just 2 goals allowed, yes that is an incredible 0.25 GAA, and at that same pace they would allow a total of 9 goals this year, that of course isn't likely to happen.
Still it has been what has kept RSL in matches, they have clean sheets in 6 of their 8 matches played and first string keeper Nick Rimando has a 0.29 GAA with 5 clean sheets in 7 matches played. Enough to get him called into the USMNT as the 3rd keeper for the Gold Cup. Nick's job of course is made easier by the great work done by the entire team on defense, and it is that collective defensive effort that has helped RSL be a record setting defense. There are not many teams where you will see your strikers rushing back to help out on defense, yet you see that as the norm and not the exception with RSL, each of the midfielders in the diamond formation know that their job is both offensive and defensive in nature and they do it without playing with 8, 9, or 10 men behind the ball.
Kasey Keller vs. ???? -
If there is a legend in US Soccer it is likely Kasey Keller, he simply has done more and done more well than anyone else in US Soccer history and I think it has been great that for his last few years as a player that he chose to return to the US and play in Major League Soccer. It has allowed fans who only could see him on TV to get to see one of the great keepers in person and he hasn't disappointed. He has made great saves, and been the foundation upon which the Sounders were built. When facing RSL he has an impressive 0.75 GAA for all 4 matches the two teams have played. This year Kasey has played every minute of MLS action for the Sounders and brings a 0.92 GAA with him and 3 clean sheets.
So perhaps the biggest question for Real Salt Lake is where will their goals come from? There are only two players on the RSL roster this year who have scored against the Sounders, both Will Johnson and Alvaro Saborio have a single goal against the lads from Seattle. Well we know that Sabo is off for Gold Cup duty with Costa Rica, and while Will Johnson will be on the Canadian team in the Gold Cup he is still available for this match. There are a number of options for RSL that could find the back of the net, the top threat has to be Fabian Espindola who is back to 100 percent and should test the Sounders defense. Then of course there are guys who aren't counted on for goals but have shown the ability to do big things, Kyle Beckerman, Jamison Olave, Andy Williams, and to be hoenst everyone else in a RSL kit. While the team has just 9 goals, 7 different players have scored them, so with RSL you never know who or where the threat will come from.
Nate Jaqua -
He has been one of the best scoring players against RSL, he has 6 goals and 1 assist in his 851 minutes against RSL. Only one of those came in the rave green of the Sounders, but clearly he has shown that he can be a real threat against RSL. This year he has battled injuries and other issues that have limited him to just 3 starts, but he has seen action in 10 of the teams 13 matches for a total of 391 minutes. While he hasn't found the back of the net yet, he has taken 6 shots and put one of them on goal. Jaqua is a physical player and at 6'4" and 205 lbs he is usually more than a handful for defenders, he actually has been called for 13 fouls already this year but against the likes of Olave and Borchers his physical play may actually get him in trouble. If he gets on the pitch RSL will need to keep one eye on him at all times, to keep him from finding his 7th goals against us.
Jean Alexandre -
So reports from RSL practice sessions this week would indicate that the team will stick with the 4-4-2 formation and will move Jean Alexandre to play up top with Fabian Espindola. Perhaps no better pairing of what Reed would call "a dog and a cat" style of players. Fabain is a quick player who loves to use his skill and footwork to attack defenders by being where they aren't, smart and surprising like a cat, while Jean is just under 6' and at 185 lbs is a very strong player. Coming from Haiti the progress of Jean has been slow, his college soccer was played at Lynn University where he played several positions including forward. He does know how to score, at least he was able to do so at the college level where he had 34 goals and 16 assists in his 69 matches played for Lynn University. This could be Jean's chance to really shine for RSL and show that all the work has paid off.
Mark Kadlecik -
Yes this week the referee is once again one of my wildcards, there isn't much of a track record on Mark, he has only been in charge of 3 MLS matches, he has called an average of 25.3 fouls per match and issued an average of 4 yellows per match. He has issued one red card, and pointed to the PK spot once, so he clearly isn't afraid to make his presence known. Again this week my hope is that no matter how he calls the match, that it is called the same for both teams and that nobody leaves wanting to blame the official for the outcome of the match.
It has been over two years since RSL lost a home match in Major League Soccer, yet their struggles with scoring, injuries, and national team call ups have some people doubting and others predicting that they are ripe for the picking. I actually think the call ups could be exactly what RSL needs, it will break up the funk that the team has been in for several weeks, it will force the staff to give some new players a chance and to focus on getting back to the fundamentals of how RSL want to play. All of this should contribute to making RSL a very hungry team on Saturday, but I am not going to dismiss the Sounders. They have a ton of talent on their roster and while they have had to juggle their lineups even more than RSL has, they are still a very good team.
I think you will see some unlikely heroes in the match, a Jean Alexandre, Nate Jaqua, Chris Wingert, or someone else could find the net and be the difference maker in this match. I think it will be a tightly fought match with RSL coming out on top via a 2-0 score line.
OFF MY SOAPBOX