Obafemi Martins

Sounders meet Real Salt Lake in matchup of top two teams in Western Conference

Sounders FC vs. Real Salt Lake

MLS Regular Season
Saturday, August 16; 11:30 am PT; Rio Tinto Stadium
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network; KIRO Radio 97.3 FM/SiriusXM FC (channel 94); ESPN Deportes Radio, 1490 AM (Spanish)

For the third consecutive meeting, Saturday’s matchup between Seattle and Salt Lake will feature the top two teams in the Western Conference. For the first time in those three meetings, the two sides will face off at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, in what is destined to be another memorable match.

“It’s going to be a battle, always against Salt Lake,” said Sounders FC midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. “We are confident to go there, play our game and take the three points. We go there with the mentality to win the game.”

Seattle is 2-4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium, including a 1-0 win in the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals for the club’s first-ever playoff series win. The other win came in the 2011 regular season, ending an MLS-record of 29 straight home matches without a defeat for RSL.

While Sounders FC may have some confidence from those matches, it doesn’t make the trip to Rio Tinto any easier. Real Salt Lake holds a 6-1-5 record at home this season, keeping with the club’s historical home dominance.

“It’s a difficult place to play. Their support at home is good. At home, they really play with a lot of confidence,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “They come out and they try to press the issue at the beginning of the game on their home field. So you have to be prepared for that and you have to weather that storm. Once you get through those first 15 or 20 minutes, you can settle into your game.”

Salt Lake started the season on a tear, going unbeaten in its first 12 matches at 6-0-6 before suffering the first defeat in a 4-0 win for Sounders FC on May 31 at CenturyLink Field. That started a difficult stretch in the schedule for RSL, going just 1-3-2 without Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Alvaro Saborio while the trio was away on international duty during the World Cup. Saborio suffered a fractured foot before the first ball was struck in Brazil and has yet to return, but Salt Lake is now unbeaten at 3-0-2 in its last five matches with Rimando and Beckerman back on the field together.

“Beckerman is certainly part of the spine of their team as is Rimando. They’ve had a nucleus together since about 2008 and that group really knows each other and feels comfortable with each other,” Schmid said. “Certainly Beckerman is a good quality player who makes good decisions and Nick Rimando is a goalkeeper that’s pretty unique in our league. That uniqueness as a goalkeeper helps them as well.”

While Salt Lake won’t have Saborio available, Seattle will go into the match without Obafemi Martins while the striker serves a red card suspension. In addition, Seattle is playing its third match in seven days after netting a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on Sunday and a 6-0 Open Cup semifinal smashing of the Chicago Fire on Wednesday. While those results certainly provide confidence boosts, they may also require some squad rotation for Seattle in Saturday’s match.

Regardless of who plays in a starting role, Sounders FC will have the swagger of a team that sits atop the MLS standings and will play for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title next month.

“It’s going to be a tough game. We have to go there and prove ourselves, play hard and play with energy,” Alonso said. “It’s going to be tough, but we have confidence to go there and play good soccer.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 11:30 am PT with the national television broadcast on NBC Sports Network.