The Seattle Sounders (8-3-2, 26 points) are looking to close out the month of May on a high note, at the top of the MLS table. In their way is Real Salt Lake (6-0-6, 24 points) who stand just 2 points behind the Sounders, both in the West & in the League standings. High stakes for both sides heading in to the World Cup break. What’s more, are the missing pieces on both sides due to National Team duties, as well as injuries. All in all, an intriguing match for all involved. What better way to have the Rave Green back at CenturyLink Field?
The Sounders are coming off of a Cascadia Cup clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps, a match that saw the Sounders leave Vancouver with a point, if only just barely. A late penalty kick (on what can only be described as a soft penalty) from Gonzalo Pineda salvaged the point for an overall unimpressive showing from the depleted Sounders squad. Fast forward to Saturday and Seattle stares down that barrel once again. Missing out on leading scorer Clint Dempsey (World Cup) & Lamar Neagle (Injury) the Sounders will need to rely on their remaining arsenal to get the job done. While we all know that Obafemi Martins (5 goals, 6 assists) is as dangerous as they come, but he can’t do it alone. Kenny Cooper, who has had a stellar season thus far, looked off-balance last week and has hopefully worked out the kinks in his play. Chad Barrett has shown increased prowess in the Rave Green and will become an invaluable cog in the machine during the World Cup break.
Defensively it’s an entirely different story. With DeAndre Yedlin gone on National Duty (first MLS Home Grown Player to make the team!), and Djimi Traore going down during the Vancouver match with a torn adductor (which could put him out for anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months) the back four is in a questionable state. With the return of The Sheriff Brad Evans, it’s very likely he will start at the back with Leo Gonzalez on the left. This still leaves issues at center as Chad Marshall is still considered questionable with the same illness that took him out of action last week (and has apparently caused him to lose 5 pounds/2.265 KG). Dylan Remick has started the last two Reserve League matches and would be a viable solution that would add the much-needed speed in Yedlin’s absence, anchored by the veteran presence of Zach Scott. While not the most ideal situation, it will do in the interim.
Real Salt Lake find themselves in a similar situation as they are also missing several key starters. With Nick Rimando called away, backup GK Jeff Attinella will find himself between the pipes for RSL, and he has done an admirable job of late, making 16 saves in 4 matches (2 shutouts). RSL will also be without Kyle Beckerman (USMNT) & joint leading scorer Alvaro Saborio (6 goals, Costa Rica) due to the World Cup, as well as the other half of the scoring duo, Joao Plata (6 goals, 3 assists), who will be remaining on the sidelines with an aggravated hamstring. Riding the pine alongside of him will be Luis Gil (hamstring) and Cole Grossman (shin). With such a depleted line-up RSL will be leaning heavily on well-rounded & savvy veteran midfielder Javier Morales (4 goal, 5 assists) to lead their offensive charge. At 34 he doesn’t seem to have lost much of his step will look to lead the youth players around him to victory in hostile territory.
So, what are the Sounders keys to victory? Simply put, set pieces. It has been a continued weakness for RSL so far this season and is a specialty of the Sounders. Seattle currently has the second best shot accuracy in MLS, and has been fantastic on the counter attack, another area RSL has struggled thus far in the campaign. While last week’s display against Vancouver does give pause, as it wasn’t exactly a picturesque performance, if any one team in the league knows how to bounce back, it’s the Sounders. The second key is Seattle’s return to CenturyLink Field. The Sounders are the lone team to win five games on home turf this season, earning a league-best 15 points in the process. Seattle’s current four-game home winning streak is tied with New England for the longest in 2014 and is two short of the club-record, a six-match streak from the high-point of last season (July 28-Sept. 13, 2013).
The CLink is becoming a place that opposition are scared to play in again and the Sounders can not afford to let their foot off the gas now and take a step back. This is a match the Sounders can win. A match the Sounders need to win. Heading into the World Cup break Seattle needs to show the League that they don’t require their biggest star to win matches, that they can do it just as well with a less than 100% squad. Saturday is that time & Real Salt Lake are the first stepping stone.