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Another massive crowd expected at CenturyLink Field on Friday

The Sounders huge match with Real Salt Lake may only be matched in size by the number of people in the seats.

Sounders FC vs. Real Salt Lake
September 13, 2013, 7 pm PT; CenturyLink Field
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network; 97.3 FM; La Gran D 99.3 FM (Spanish)
Tickets: SoundersFC.com/Tickets

Professional athletes love playing on the biggest stages with the brightest lights.

Sounders FC has had a way of elevating its game when the club opens the stadium beyond the regular capacity and hopes that trend continues on Friday when Seattle hosts Real Salt Lake in a battle of the top two teams in Major League Soccer.

“I think it always helps us. I think the guys get enthused. They know it’s a special occasion,” Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “And I think our fans get a little more enthused because they realize it’s a special day. Any time we can do that, I think it’s fantastic.”

The first time Sounders FC opened up seating to full capacity was in the regular-season finale in 2011. Hosting the San Jose Earthquakes in the final regular season match in the legendary career of goalkeeper Kasey Keller, Seattle filled the stands to the tune of 64,140 fans. At the time, it was the largest crowd at an MLS match in over four years and the third-largest standalone crowd in league history.

Keller put on a show in his swan song, too, making a pair of remarkable saves to stave off the Earthquakes late in a 2-1 victory for Sounders FC.

In 2012, Seattle played in front of crowds of over 55,000 when it hosted the LA Galaxy, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Portland Timbers. The Sounders smashed the Galaxy 4-0 in front of 60,908, then two weeks later 55,718 saw the Sounders oust Vancouver, 2-0. Finally, a remarkable crowd of 66,452 saw Seattle hammer the Timbers, 3-0.

This year, those matches have been more spread out, with the first of four matches coming in June against the Whitecaps. With 53,679 at CenturyLink Field, Seattle outlasted Vancouver, 3-2, to cap a stretch of five wins in six matches for Sounders FC.

In August, a standing-room-only crowd of 67,385 was there for a 1-0 Sounders victory over the Timbers as Seattle rolled to a 6-0-0 record while outscoring their opponents 15-3 when over 50,000 fans cross the turnstiles.

After the Salt Lake match, a fourth match will come in front of a fully-opened stadium when Seattle hosts the LA Galaxy in the regular-season finale on October 27.

Selecting RSL as an opponent for the four-match pack available to fans this season was a many-pronged decision, but really came down to the intense rivalry between the two squads.

“We were trying to spread the games out so there weren’t two of those big games in a very short time frame,” Owner and General Manager Adrian Hanauer explained. “Salt Lake is a huge rival of ours. We assumed it would be a big game this time of year and as it turns out, it’s massive.”

Hanauer’s feelings on the match are hardly hyperbole. The implications for this particular matchup, as Seattle trails Salt Lake by just two points in the standings, are crucial to both clubs.

Seattle also has a bit of revenge on its mind after falling in both prior meetings this season at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“It’s a great game for our fans. We have an opportunity to move ourselves into first place without anybody’s help. It’s in our hands entirely. It’s a really big game from that standpoint,” Schmid said. “It’s also a big game because Salt Lake has taken it to us twice. They’ve done a good job in those two games and we need to get a little bit even there. They’re a quality team. It’s going to be a great game.”