TUKWILA — A familiar tale could be headed to Seattle: Downtrodden Real Salt Lake, which looks beatable, instead swipes three points at CenturyLink Field.
Last season, RSL handed the Sounders a 1-0 loss in Seattle that sparked a chorus of boos from the Rave Green faithful.
Saturday, the Sounders face an injured Real Salt Lake team that sits at 1-3-1 and has finished with 11 players on the field just twice this season. RSL will be without star midfielder Damir Kreilach, who led the team with 15 goals in 2018, after receiving a red card for head-butting a player in a loss to Dallas last week.
RSL is looking like the MLS’ agitators with four of its players among the 14 total red cards assessed across the league this season. Three other RSL players have three yellow cards apiece.
Real Salt Lake may have its issues, but quality players isn’t one of them, even with Kreilach’s absence. Real Salt Lake still poses a risk for the Sounders, who laid an egg against RSL at home last year. In goal for RSL is Nick Rimando, who announced he’s retiring at the end of the season and is first all-time in MLS games started (490) and saves (1,642).
And despite RSL’s aggression, Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer doesn’t expect an extremely physical match. Still basking in an unbeaten start to the season, the Sounders (3-0-1) would rather return to their potent attack after a scoreless draw in Vancouver last week.
“They’re not an overly dirty team by any stretch of the imagination,” Schmetzer said of RSL. “Without Kreilach, that’s a big loss for them because he’s an exceptional player. Who do they put there? They can go with some speed options. … We’ll prepare for a couple of different scenarios, but it’ll be interesting.”
Among RSL’s injuries, the team’s defenders were hit particularly hard. As of Friday afternoon, four of six players appearing on RSL’s injury report are defenders: Erik Holt (ankle injury) was listed as out, Tony Beltran (knee injury) and Adam Henley (ankle injury) were listed as questionable and Justen Glad (toe injury) was listed as probable. If in the lineup, Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz, listed Friday as questionable with a right heel contusion, could capitalize on a Salt Lake defense that has allowed 12 goals this season.
“If you watched the game against LAFC during the international break, (RSL coach Mike Petke) was missing some guys through injures, through international duties and he threw a team out there that was 30 seconds from getting a massive road point against a real quality LAFC side. His teams never quit,” Schmetzer said, referencing RSL’s 2-1 loss to LAFC on March 23.
Seattle doesn’t let up either. Sounders players want to draw from their ardent fans in the first home game since blanking Colorado on March 9.
“With our fans, we have started really good at home,” defensive midfielder Gustav Svensson said. “We had as a focus this year to start better, especially at home, and we’ve just got to keep going.”
The Sounders spent a lot of time this week practicing with a short field to work on finding ways to score against a packed box, which gave Seattle trouble against Vancouver.
“RSL is a good team. They have some good players, especially up front,” Svensson said. “We’re going to have to stay focused. If we have the ball, we have to make sure we don’t give them any counterattack opportunities and we have to score goals. We had half-chances against Vancouver, but we’ve got to get 100-percent chances.”