Real Salt Lake-Sounders Preview
Two days before two of the best teams in the NFL get the league's stage to themselves at CenturyLink Field, the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake will be front and center there for perhaps the biggest game of the MLS regular season.
The Sounders can grab the lead in the race for the Supporters' Shield on Friday night against RSL as they seek their fifth straight win overall and sixth in a row in one of the league's loudest home environments.
The Seahawks and 49ers renew what's becoming one of the NFL's best rivalries Sunday night, but 48 hours before that the Sounders (14-8-4) and Salt Lake (14-8-6) will stage arguably the most significant game in Seattle's five-year MLS history.
"If you don't look forward to these kind of games, why are we doing all of this?" coach Sigi Schmid told the league's official website. "These are the games that you want.
"... "It's such a massive game for our fans to come out and see. This is what you live for; this is why you do sports. This is why we try to strive to do well, so you get opportunities like this."
RSL has a league-best 48 points, but the Sounders have two games in hand and can take the Western Conference lead with a victory in a stadium in which they've earned three points in all five matches since July 20. They seemed to be headed for a draw with visiting Chicago on Saturday before the Fire's Gonzalo Segares put one into his own net in the 89th minute to give Seattle a 2-1 win.
That victory came without Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson, who were training with the U.S. national team. Johnson's goal Tuesday lifted the U.S. to a 2-0 win over Mexico that, along with Honduras' draw with Panama later that night, secured a World Cup birth.
Dempsey and Johnson are expected back for this contest, which would be a huge boost to a Seattle attack that has yet to team those two with co-leading scorer Obafemi Martins.
Regardless of the Sounders' firepower up front, they'll likely have their hands full with RSL. Salt Lake has beaten Seattle twice this year - both times at Rio Tinto Stadium - and went 1-0-2 in three games at CenturyLink Field last season.
RSL didn't allow a goal in Seattle in 2012 - including a scoreless draw in the West semifinals - and has held the Sounders scoreless there for 299 consecutive minutes.
"Salt Lake is a team you have to beat if you want to win an MLS Cup," Sounders midfielder Marc Burch said. "This is first place now, but we're going to see them again soon. This isn't the end of the road on Friday, but it's a big game."
RSL, which hasn't played since beating Portland 4-2 at home Aug. 30, has hardly been stingy on the road recently. Salt Lake is 0-2-2 in its last four away from home, surrendering 13 goals - three more than it allowed in its first 10 road matches.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando are expected back after being with the U.S. team, but striker Alvaro Saborio - who has a team-high 10 goals in 13 games - isn't.
Saborio left the Costa Rican national team to return to the United States on Monday with a calf injury.