A critical Western Conference battle comes Saturday night when Real Salt Lake hosts Sounders FC at Rio Tinto Stadium. Seattle is looking to continue building momentum from its win over Orlando City last weekend, while RSL would move within three points of the Rave Green with a victory.
Here are three key matchups to watch in Saturday’s match.
Obafemi Martins vs. Nick Rimando
Even at age 36, Rimando remains one of the premier goalkeepers in MLS. The five-time All-Star is fourth in the league in goals-against average (1.06) among keepers with at least five starts this season. But unfortunately for Rimando and RSL, Martins is healthy and feeling confident ahead of Saturday’s match. The Nigerian striker marked his return to the lineup with a brace against Orlando, including a brilliant individual effort in which he chipped the keeper before tapping the ball into an empty net.
Nelson Valdez vs. Aaron Maund
Martins wasn’t the only Designated Player that impressed in Sunday’s win over Orlando. Valdez opened his Sounders FC account in his debut, scoring on a header shortly after halftime to give the Sounders a 2-0 lead. The veteran striker could start alongside Martins again on Saturday since Clint Dempsey is questionable with a hamstring injury. After helping the Sounders dominate Orlando, Valdez will be up against what has been a shaky RSL backline. Maund, a fourth-year pro, commands the defense from the centerback spot.
Román Torres vs. Sebastián Jaime
Pairing with Chad Marshall in the middle of the backline, Torres was another standout performer last weekend. He gives the Sounders a stout presence in front of goalkeeper Stefan Frei and a weapon on offensive set pieces with his ability to win aerial duels. On Saturday he’ll be tasked with defending Jaime, an Argentine forward and one of RSL’s Designated Players. Jaime has had a solid summer for the Claret and Cobalt, recording four goals and two assists in the last two months.