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Preview: RSL hosts defending champs, fights for playoffs

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In a crucial Western Conference match-up, RSL will hope to break Seattle’s 13-game unbeaten streak and grab three vital points to stay in the playoff picture.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake will host the Seattle Sounders this weekend in a match-up that houses huge playoff implications. A win for RSL would put them one big step in the right direction, depending on how other results go around the conference. A loss and some unfortunate results for RSL within the league could see them all but out of the running.

In the second and final game between the two sides this season, RSL will look not only for playoff positioning, but a little bit of revenge as Seattle won the last outing by a score of 1-0 on May 20th, thanks to a goal from Harry Shipp and a handful of saves from Nick Rimando.

In the last five matches, the home side has won every single time. Unfortunately, four of those five were played in Seattle, so the Sounders have had RSL’s number over the last couple of years. The game earlier this season was the first time that the visiting side was held scoreless throughout those five games.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 11-13-5 (38 points)
Table: 6th place (west), 13th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.27 (15th in MLS)
Most goals: Joao Plata (7), Yura Movsisyan (7), Albert Rusnak (7)
Most assists: Albert Rusnak (12) *6th in MLS

MLS: Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Hanging on by a thread

Although RSL has made an incredibly impressive turnaround over the last half of the season, going 6-2-3 in their last 11, their playoff fate ultimately lies in the hands of a few other teams around them who currently have games in hand. Specifically San Jose, Dallas, and Houston.

Even if RSL were to win all four of their remaining games, they’d need some help from one or more of those three teams, in the form of losses or draws in those extra games in hand. Playoffstatus.com gives RSL a 30% chance of making it to the first round of playoffs, presumably because they don’t have full control over their own destiny.

Rusnak in form

Albert Rusnak is really coming into his own in the role of the squad’s playmaker, notching 12 assists and seven goals this season, finding himself in a three-way tie with Yura Movsisyan and Joao Plata for the club’s leading scorer. With four assists and two goals through his last five games, he’s really heading up the charge into the playoff push, and showing why RSL signed him in the first place.

Rusnak seems to make everyone around him on the field perform better. When he’s not scoring himself, he’s setting his teammates up for clear chances at the goal. The front four has been nearly unstoppable over the last 11 games or so, wreaking havoc on defenders and goalkeepers from every team who’s crossed their path.

Every point counts

With only four games left in the regular season, RSL will see two tough teams at home in the form of Seattle this weekend, while closing out the season at home against Sporting Kansas City. The road games, however, could be a completely different story.

They’ll travel to the StubHub Center next week to take on the struggling LA Galaxy, who have given up 19 goals over their last eight matches. One could say that RSL’s turnaround began against the Galaxy, when they pulled off a 6-2 rout of the five-time MLS Cup champions back in July. They’ll look to do it again before they travel to Colorado the following week to take on the last-place Rapids, in what they hope will be a full six points from their two-game road trip.

Seattle Sounders

Record: 11-7-11 (44 points)
Table: 4th place (west), 9th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.52 (7th in MLS)
Most goals: Clint Dempsey (11)
Most assists: Joevin Jones (10)

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Defending champs

No matter how you look at it, Seattle remain the MLS Cup defending champions after their Cinderella run last year that took them from the bottom of the table all the way to their first MLS Cup title. With head coach Brian Schmetzer now fully in charge this season after shedding the interim tag in the offseason, the Sounders have put together a decent year, hovering mid-table for much of the season as they keep grinding out results.

Unbeaten in their last 13 MLS games, they haven’t lost a match since June 17th when NYCFC got a 2-1 at home against the visiting Seattle side. However, seven of those 13 games have been draws, which leaves six wins in the meantime.

Morris-less

Jordan Morris, who hasn’t been extremely productive in the goals department but has been someone Seattle has relied heavily on, will be out for this match after suffering a hamstring strain a couple weeks back. He’s expected to miss multiple matches for the Sounders and will hope to be healthy before the playoffs, but his absence will certainly be felt, as was apparent in Seattle’s 0-0 draw on the road against a tanking FC Dallas.

Aside from Morris, Seattle’s injury list is pretty minimal, the only other big name they’d like to not see on there is defender Chad Marshall, who’s listed as questionable with a hamstring strain. He didn’t play last week against Dallas so it remains to be seen if he’ll be available for this weekend.

While it’ll be an intense affair all-around, RSL will hope to snap Seattle’s 13-game unbeaten streak as they march on toward playoffs and continue the spectacular attacking form we’ve seen from them over the last couple of months.


Leading scorers

RSL: Joao Plata (7), Yura Movsisyan (7), Albert Rusnak (7), Luis Silva (6), Jefferson Savarino (5), Kyle Beckerman (3), Luke Mulholland (2), Brooks Lennon (2)

SEA: Clint Dempsey (11), Will Bruin (8), Cristian Roldan (6), Nicolas Lodeiro (4), Jordan Morris (3), Lamar Neagle (2), Harry Shipp (2)

Absences

RSL
OUT: Jordan Allen (knee), Omar Holness (knee), Chad Barrett (knee), Ricardo Velazco (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: Demar Philips (hamstring)

SEA
OUT: Brad Evans (back), Callum Mallace (quad), Jordan Morris (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: Chad Marshall (hamstring)

Expected lineups

RSL: Rimando; Beltran, Glad, M Silva, Acosta; Beckerman, Mulholland; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; L Silva

SEA: Frei; Leerdam, Torres, Svensson, Tolo; Alonso, Roldan; Lodeiro, Dempsey, Jones; Bruin

Match info

When: Saturday, September 23, 7:30PM MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, Utah

Weather: 43 degrees, light rain

Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700 (radio only), MLS Live

Referee: Sorin Stoica (2017: 12 games; 47 yellows, 2 reds, 7 penalties)