Since the last time the Sounders played Real Salt Lake, RSL has traded away defender Jamison Olave, midfielder Will Johnson and forward Fabian Espindola -- who had been stalwarts with the club.
Even with the departures, real Salt Lake still plays its "4-4-2 with the diamond," Sounders assistant coach Brian Schmetzer said Friday.
"It's different personalities, for sure, so it makes them look perhaps a little different," he said. "But the quality that they show in their possession and how they play and line up: All that's the same."
However, the early results haven't been the same as past years. After starting the season with a 2-0 win at San Jose, RSL has gone 0-2-1 over its past three matches -- the same as the Sounders.
"They've had some tough games," Schmetzer said. "We've had some tough games. It's a tough league. It's a very even league, so these early season games -- especially teams that don't have the record perhaps we think we should or they think they should have -- become big games."
RSL stands as the No. 6 team in the MLS Western Conference, while Seattle is ninth and last.
That's a long fall from when the two clubs met in last season's playoffs and the third-seeded Sounders eliminated second-seeded RSL on a late goal. The victory was just the latest in a series of memorable matches between these teams. Another was the Sounders' 2-1 victory in 2011, which ended RSL's league-record 29-game home unbeaten streak. Salt Lake got a bit of revenge in that postseason by eliminating Seattle from the playoffs.
"Every game is a rivalry to a certain extent," coach Sigi Schmid said of the Seattle-Salt Lake series. " Our league is so tight and so competitive that we have to be prepared for every game."
Several new Sounders are expected to play tonight, including designated players Obafemi Martins, who is just back from duty with the Nigerian national team, and Shalrie Joseph, who is expected to make his Sounders debut after recovering from a calf injury.
Mario Martinez is not expected to be available today, after being delayed in his return from Honduras. However, USA-national team member Eddie Johnson is back and eager to pair with Martins in an effort to add punch to a Seattle offense that has scored one goal over its first three games.
"I don't think we're going through a tough spell; I think it's a challenging spell – trying to think of something positive," Johnson said. " I think we've been very solid in the back. But it's up to us strikers now. We're getting chances, and it's just a matter of time before they go in."
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